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Radioactive leak at Sellafield later blamed on radon

31 January 2014

High radiation levels have been reported at Sellafield, the nuclear facility in north west England. A local newspaper, the News and Star, reported that around 8,000 of the 10,000 workers on the site had been told not to come to work on January 31 until the cause of problem has been identified.

A statement from Sellafield Ltd said: "As a result of a conservative and prudent decision, the Sellafield site is operating normally but with reduced manning levels today. This follows the detection of elevated levels of radioactivity at one of the on-site radiation monitors at the north end of the site. Essential workers only are being asked to report for work.

"Levels of radioactivity detected are above naturally occurring radiation but well below that which would call for any actions to be taken by the workforce on or off the site. The site is at normal status and employees and operational plants are continuing to operate as investigations continue. All our facilities have positively confirmed there are no abnormal conditions and are operating normally.

"We have taken this decision to focus on investigation and avoid disruption on and off the site (such as traffic disruption in the west Cumbria region).

"If this had happened during the working day we would just allow people to go home as normal. There is no risk to the general public or workforce."

A spokesman for the government's safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, said: "We are satisfied that Sellafield continues to take appropriate action in response to the enhanced activity levels. The levels are not increasing and we are satisfied that Sellafield is making progress with determining the source of the activity. We expect to have further information around midday."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) confirmed the elevated radioactivity but said they were "well below levels of concern". The plant was still operating and not offline, she said, but all non-essential staff had been asked to leave the site.

Later in the day Sellafield Ltd said it had found that radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from rocks and soil, was the cause.

"This is a very rare occurrence and the alert is over. Everything will be back to normal on Saturday," said a spokesman from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the public sector body that owns the site.

The ageing facility continued to operate normally during the morning and the operator and the government said there was no risk to the public. According to a Reuters report, it was the first time local inhabitants could recall staff being sent home.

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