back to article Radiation TERROR on Scottish beach! Except it's quite safe

A Scottish beach has been cordoned off as a "contaminated land" by environmental-protection authorities following discovery of "radioactive particles" there, thought to result from Ministry of Defence activities in the past. Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has seen fit to write to the Defence secretary, urging the MoD to …

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  1. Trollslayer Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Thank you!

    A good, honest and clear analysis.

    Including showing the true colours of some self serving idiots.

    1. Ross 7

      Errr, not exactly. LP implies that because the material has been burnt it is now safe (?!) in this article, but in his pro nuclear power articles mentions that burning coal releases radioactive waste. Can't have it both ways. He's just picking the side that suits him most (just like the anti nuclear fear mongers)

      He also claims that the pilots that sat near the instruments would have been exposed to the radiation so it must be safe. I have to use a bad word now and say that is plain retarded. Alpha particles won't go through the glass on the instrument panel, so no they weren't. These particles aren't shielded (otherwise they wouldn't be measurable).

      Other appalling arguments include "As for breathing the stuff in, radium and its decay products are heavy stuff: a particle small and light enough to float on air currents will have a tiny activity level".

      It fails on two levels. The obvious one (feel free to breathe in a few grammes of atomised U-235 - it's tiny after all, must be safe if it can float per LP), and the slightly less obvious one (density is irrelevant with tiny particles and after something has been oxidised by burning as LP states the materials were. Lead is dense - a brick of it tends not to float on the wind. Lead oxide on the other hand....)

      The risk here is indeed small, but the piss poor commentary on it doesn't help anyone, least of all LP who makes himself look like a mirror image of the frothing anti-nuke lobby.

      Keep it balanced or don't bother.

      1. Mad Hacker
        WTF?

        Keep it balanced?

        I don't come to El Reg for balance! I doubt anyone does.

      2. HMB

        Millions of tonnes of coal vs less than a tonne of lumonous paint. Here, I'll give you a pound, you give me a million pounds, there's no difference.

        Shielded particles on a cockpit display, fair enough, good point.

        When considering inhaling freshly vapourised uranium from a high energy impact, it's the impact that aerosols it. I don't care about the radiological effects of uranium dust, I care about it's heavy metal chemical toxicity. I don't think there's much point in just saying that radium particles would be too heavy to be airborne, I think it needs scientific testing. I would personally however, expect the dust to settle or be blown away fairly quickly in an outside environment.

        1. Ross 7

          "Millions of tonnes of coal vs less than a tonne of lumonous paint. Here, I'll give you a pound, you give me a million pounds, there's no difference"

          The radioactivity from coal is generally explained as being from uranium in the coal. Radium is 1 million times more radioactive than uranium :) Kinda works.

  2. embraman
    FAIL

    Er, no it hasn't

    "A Scottish beach has been cordoned off as a "contaminated land" by environmental-protection authorities." Wrong. The beeb reports that SEPA has given the MOD until end of Feb to come up with a plan to clean up the beach, or it will declare it officially contaminated. Not a great start to your article Mr P.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Must be a massive spill of photoshop then..

      http://www.thecourier.co.uk/img/photos/biz/photo_16730_wide_crop.jpg

      Just in case your open to evidence, that red & white thing is a cordon, the reason is clearly stated "Radioactive Contamination".

  3. jake Silver badge

    "Green" is roughly equal to "idiocy" ...

    Example: "The Petaluma Seed Bank", purveyor of so-called "heirloom" seeds, is housed in a former 1900-ish bank building. The radiation inside is quite a bit higher than the radiation outside. When I pointed this out, I was asked to leave.

    Religious folks aren't exactly logical ;-)

  4. jonathanb Silver badge

    Radiation burns

    I can assure you that there is absolutely no risk of getting sunburn on Dalety Bay. Hypothermia is a very great risk though.

  5. Richard IV
    Childcatcher

    "The aircrews who flew those planes happily sat for ages within inches of all these particles"

    And nearly all of those brave airmen are NOW DEAD* Possibly from CANCER?!?

    /Daily Mail

    * Prove me wrong - they _are_ WW2 aircraft after all...

  6. jestersbro
    FAIL

    Someone needs to get some priorities right.

    But they are allowed to eat, drink and smoke themselves to death?

    Next we'll hear that the most unhealthy nation in the UK has now decided that fruit and veg are also to be banned as they have mud on them.

    MASSIVE FAIL

    1. defiler Silver badge

      Health risks

      Don't forget that the Kingdom of Fife is the birthplace of that most hallowed of meals, the deep-fried Mars bar, or so they tell me. Quite proud of it in Dunfermline.

      1. Harvardyard

        Harvardyard

        I suppose you come frrom the home of the greasy chip buttie. Ugh! Or perhaps the land of the saveloy. Ugh! Ugh! Or maybe even the wasteland which is middle England where they eat jellied eels....Argh!

        1. defiler Silver badge
          FAIL

          @Harvardyard

          Not so much. From here at my desk I could probably get to Dalgety Bay in about 30 minutes depending on traffic at the bridge.

          I'm not going to suggest that diets in Edinburgh are so much better than in Fife, but even I'll draw the line somewhere. That said, apparently some chippies in Dunfy are doing deep-fried Maltesers, which sound incredible if not *entirely* the lighter way to enjoy chocolate...

    2. Harvardyard

      Well at least we're not killing our neighbours in street riots.

      1. Chinashaw
        Devil

        I take it

        That you are a large, deep fried mars bar eating, skirt wearing compatriot with more than 1 deep fried chip on your shoulder? The only reason you are not seeing rioting is due to the fact that most if not all of your putative rioters would have dropped dead of hardened arteries the moment they had to stagger from the Rozzer...

        How's that for having nothing to do with the story at hand?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    oh Gordon

    just seen shitloads of toxic debt everywhere, gonna write a letter about that?

    1. Harvardyard

      The only shitloads remaining have been incurred by Dumb Dave and Ozzie the ostrich

  8. Gregor
    FAIL

    Reason for worry

    As SEPA say, the issue is that it's starting to escape, and their fear is that it's going to get a lot worse, if more is eroded out.

    Nowhere do they say it's dangerous now. In fact, they're doing nothing until February when they hear back from the MoD.

    Their worry is how much is down there, and what's still to come up. The long term solution.

    I think you need to read things properly before being so quick to have a go.

    1. John G Imrie Silver badge

      All this may be true

      I haven't bothered to check. However all the headlines and reporting I've seen have been of the 'Oh my God!! We're all going to glow in the dark!!!!!' kind.

  9. Ian Stephenson Silver badge
    Mushroom

    If they are quarantining for this level

    can we have Aberdeen sealed in concrete?

    PLEASE?

    Hideous place, deserves to be buried.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Those painting the dials

    Didn't they suck on the tips of their paintbrushes to keep a sharp tip and end up with some nasty side-effects?

    1. Ru

      Not necessarily

      The 'radium girl' lawsuits were in the mid-twenties, and I think everyone was a bit better informed after that. Given the rate at which aircraft were churned out in the second world war, I'd say that the old stockpiles would have been depleted pretty quickly. I am assuming that radium paint application was done in a slightly more worker-friendly fashion during the war, of course. I don't know if that is necessarily true, but it would appear so.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, well documented history. The girls (and they were all girls) who worked in the factories in the early 1900's who painted the luminous dials onto clocks and aircraft instruments often used the paint to paint their nails and teeth in the name of "fashion". They suffered some pretty horrible effects before the radiation aspects of the paint were understood, as did their children when they later got married. Westclox springs to mind, I'm sure google will have copious amounts of info for those interested.

  11. AndyC

    ALARP not ALARA

    ALARA is an American invention and has no legal standing in the UK.

    ALARP is the principle, enshrined in the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, where a risk has to be reduced to As Low As Reasonably Practicable. So, spending thousands of pounds on a beach in Scotland to reduce the risk from next to nothing, to nothing, is way beyond ALARP.

    I had to smile when the quote from SEPA included an "alpha ray". Never heard of that. Any ideas what it is?

    An alpha particle I've heard of, and outside the body, it's of no consequence. Inside is another matter however... (depending upon how many particles you're dealing with of course)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @AndyC

      You will be pleased to know the 'alpha ray' bit was a comment made by the author of the article, not something from the linked pdf.

      Shoddy journalism to make it look like it was part of the linked document & doesn't inspire much confidence.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I totally disagree. Action is needed now.

    May I suggest making sure the resident MP is present inside then building a fifty foot wall all round the area and filling the resulting container up with water and sealing the top in with a concrete lid.

    There that fixed it. You can send my consultancy fee's to Adam Werrity - he must be feeling the pinch about now......

  13. Ryan Kendall
    Joke

    If i leave a in iPhone on the beach.

    They should cordon it off too :-)

    Those exploding batteries are deadly.

  14. Mars
    Facepalm

    Contaminated Land... nope

    As Embraman has already pointed out ... "A Scottish beach has been cordoned off as a "contaminated land" by environmental-protection authorities" is just not true.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As Above

      http://www.thecourier.co.uk/img/photos/biz/photo_16730_wide_crop.jpg

      A picture speaks a thousand words.. usually most of them are calls a 'Fake!' or 'It's shopped!' though this isn't.

      There are TWO Things to consider 1) the beach has been cordoned off due to contamination, 2) it will be declared an official contaminated site in Feb.

      The official declaration will mean the cordon becomes official (enforceable) rather than advisory.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Red vs Blue

    I appreciated your thoughts on Fukushima against the tide of propaganda Lewis. The difference was that there you were talking in a vaguely informed manner against a media backdrop that was very sensational. This time you seem to be criticising the professionals reasonable responses.

    Which corner for SEPA to take when looking for advice on what to do?

    M W Charles says in the linked file:

    ‘Significant’ radioactive sources were considered to pose a realistic potential of causing harm'

    'On this basis the 39 recently evaluated Ra-226 samples would be classified as:

    2 significant 11 relevant 26 minor'

    'A ‘Significant’ Ra-226 source of 0.6 MBq activity can give a contribution to effective dose in about 1 hour of ~ 0.4 mSv. This is comparable with the calculated annual contribution to effective dose from radon progeny deposited on the skin from radon in air at average UK radon levels.'

    But hold on - the significant source mentioned is not 0.6MBq... it is 76MBq. That is a factor of >100 Lewis!

    Monty Charles:

    Reader in Radiation Physics

    Bachelor of Science

    Doctor of Philosophy

    Doctor of Science

    Fellow of the Institute of Physics

    Fellow of the Institute of Biology

    Fellow of the Institute of Nuclear Engineering

    Fellow of the Society of Radiation Physics

    Lewis Page:

    Cambridge University (Engineering degree 1988-91, St John's College)

    University Air Squadron, RAF 1988-91

    Royal Navy officer 1993-2004

    Can read Wikipedia

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      If you are so learned My AC friend

      Then why did you just confine yourself to and observation on relative magnitudes and not offer an opinion on whether 76 beqs was a dangerous value or not.

      Gordon

      Practicing Cert in Bullshit Detection.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Didn't realise my opinion would matter over the linked learned authority...

        Ok Gordon 10... my opinion is I would be very uncomfortable having something like that unshielded in my bedroom.

        Anonymous Coward:-

        BSc Physics

        Radiation Protection Supervisor

        Works on a daily basis with sources of similar activity

  16. alabony
    Happy

    Think you're both right

    SEPA have given MoD until Feb to come up with a plan to clean up the beach, AND part of the beach has been cordoned off 'for further investigations'. I don't think anybody is saying this is a huge risk now - just that there is a risk of increased risk! Sounds to me like all the hyperbolae is coming from jumped-up people wanting to make a name for themselves.

    So, Lewis (of whom I am a huge fan generally, it must be said) is partly right, and I did find the article enlightening.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fun with non-techies

    Back in the 80s, I helped with the stage lighting for the A level drama group. As a laugh me & mate told them the control panel we'd built had been accidentally stored next to the radioactive source in the physics lab, and they'd need to be checked with a geiger counter. we got them all to line up and take off their shoes, and put their arms in the air (it was tempting to suggest the girls disrobe, but we had trouble keeping a straight face as it was). They duly complied, with nary a grumble. AC, obviously. I don't want a psychologically damaged actor stalking me.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tourist Attraction

    As a former resident/worker of the area (my sister still lives there - about 5 mins from the beach) I concur with Jonathans earlier post that hypothermia is a far greater risk. However, Fife Council and SEPA should take the opportunity to sell this as an eco-friendly way of getting an artificial suntan - no more cheapo flights to Spain! This isn't really news, it's been known about for decades, I remember it being discussed in the 70's or 80's.

    However I think El Reg need to define a more useful unit of radiation than a MegaBecquerel. Can we have that expressed in London Buses, Area of Wales, Furlongs per Fortnight or combination thereeof, please?

    1. Dave Bell

      Just use banana-equivalents.

      http://xkcd.com/radiation/

      1. Iain Anderson
        Thumb Up

        Fag packet calculation

        I make that 5.07kilobananas/hour at the worst case?

        It sounds unhealthy!

        1. Tomato42 Silver badge
          Joke

          @IainAnderson

          I can already hear my tumour growing!

  19. Colin Millar
    Coat

    We must seal Dalgety Bay in concrete

    Along with the rest of Fife.

    Shame about all the sasennachs being trapped inside the infection zone but it's a price we must pay.

    I'll get ma kilt.

  20. Ryan 7
    Boffin

    Errrrm...

    "The presence [...] in Dalgety Bay, [of] the Sun in the sky overhead, [...] pose[s] a hugely greater danger to the local inhabitants than the "radioactive contamination" there. But nobody is saying that [...] a huge sunshield should be erected over the town, [...] – because they aren't 'radiological'."

    Yes it is.

  21. AndrueC Silver badge
    Joke

    Understanding that requires a knowledge of fairly basic numeracy. No wonder Mr Brown has got it wrong.

  22. Richard 26

    Re: ALARP not ALARA

    As AndyC says it's ALARP not ALARA, and it's fundamental to UK Health and Safety law, and the idea that radiation is treated differently from other hazards in law is untrue.

    "The concept of “reasonably practicable” lies at the heart of the British health and safety system." http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/theory/alarpglance.htm

  23. Christoph Silver badge
    Pirate

    Cordon off all contaminated sites

    If that amount of contamination requires the permanent closing of the site, they should also permanently close the land where they found residues from a WWII radium dial factory while they were clearing the site for the olympics.

    1. Tomato42 Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Not to mention all the results of industrial accidents or just plain negligence in form of mercury contamination.

      1. itzman
        Unhappy

        not to mention

        ..Dartmoor and Exmoor.

  24. Harvardyard

    "You would create a similar "hazard" by throwing a few thousand completely legal luminous watches into the sea there..."

    And where would I obtain them? Only a piddling little manky Minger outfit like The Register set somewhere in the shithole which is SE England would come up with a stupid remark like that.

  25. Pete 8
    Thumb Down

    "Modern fearmongers at SEPA – and local MP Gordon Brown – might care to take note of their example, and realise just how pathetic it makes them look"

    Thanks Page-Boy, for doing the MOD's filthy dirty work.

    If you had a hushed-up cancer from being in one of the hushed-up cancer clusters around UKnUKes, you would rate this article as UKnUKepUKe. Perhaps you should just Hush up.

    But then I guess you wouldnt get the juicy tidbits of disinformation without passing wild wind like this for MoD.

    And when over-exposure comes, will you change back to your old name?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You mad?

      Having cancer is terrible, but claiming that any cancer hotspot could be hushed up is foolishness.

      Can you imagine the media frenzy?

      Workers at nuclear plants are the most inspected people in the world - and given that they are not experiencing an increased rate if cancers, it's a fairly good bet that nuclear plants don't cause cancer. Several studies have shown reduced rates of cancer among nuclear workers.

      No, the real problem is sloppy reporting causing panic. It's not a strictly nuclear thing but rather a lot of science is very badly reported. One could argue that sloppy journalists are directly responsible for the majority of measles deaths in the UK since the MMR scare.

      Sloppy reporting creates outrage in the uninformed (most people - including civil servants and particularly modern politicians) - causing them to make poor decisions.

      It's particularly bad for risks, as so few people understand risk - most people take very large risks daily, yet get very scared by very small risk that is reported in the news.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They have beaches in Scotland?

    Why?

    1. Harvardyard

      By the same token why have baths and showers in England.

    2. Harvardyard

      Do the English wash?

      For the same reason you have baths and showers in England

  27. Neil Craig

    I have done some investigation of this case since, a couple of years ago, I was answered on a BBC phone in show when I suggested that it could be natural radiation by the SEPA spokesman stating that they had done chemical analysis and found that the radioactive particles were paint. Several Freedom of Information inquiries later it emerged that they had simply made this up. The BBC are aware of these FoI's but, in a demonstration of the highest standard of honesty ever to be expected from the BBC, are still pushing this deliberate lie.

    The radiation is natural background. Here is a letter sent to various papers and, with the normal bias to be expected in the British media, not yet published:

    Sir,

    It seems SEPA are now threatening to permanently close off the beach at Dalgety Bay in their empire building campaign to ramp up false fears about radioactivity. SEPA have previously been caught telling at least 2 major lies on the subject.

    Firstly claiming, on the BBC, to have made studies of the radioactive materials and chemically proven them to be made of paint. Repeated FoI searches have proven that no such finding of paint particles has ever been made.

    Secondly to have found "radium and its daughter elements" in the beach rock. In fact the "daughter element" that radium breaks down into is radon - a gas not a rock. The scientific illiteracy required to make such a silly claim is obvious.

    The aforementioned FoI enquiries have brought to light the fact that their consultants did, years ago, tell them that "the highest reading recorded at Dalgety Bay was still less than 2/3rds that found in a typical Aberdeen street".

    Everywhere has natural radiation. A square mile of earth at Dalgety Bay will contain 3 tonnes of uranium and 6 tonnes of thorium and 1 gram of natural radium because that is what every average square mile on the planet contains. By comparison the possible presence of less than a gram of water soluble paint, only a small fraction of which was actually radium, from the figures on the dials of a few aircraft 66 years ago is immeasurably small. Indeed SEPA have, despite their claims, been wholly unable to find any trace of it.

    Beyond that there is no evidence whatsoever that radiation, up to well beyond the higher rates found in Aberdeenshire, causes any harm whatsoever, indeed the balance of scientific evidence strongly supports the view that such levels are beneficial to health. Though the sort of ignorant bureaucrats who do not know the "daughter element" of radium is a gas, have long pushed the theory radiation, even well below the naturally occurring level, being dangerous no honest scientist anywhere in the world agrees.

    It is disgraceful that the local people are being frightened and may be permanently deprived of their beach to promote what anybody scientifically literate in SEPA must know to be a false, though newsworthy, scare.

    Neil Craig

    200 Woodlands Rd.

    Glasgow

    G3 6LN

    0141 332 7785

    Refs - Dalgety radiation less than 2/3rds background in Aberdeen http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2009/05/dalgety-bay-my-reply.html

    - Radioactives in soil http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2009/05/radium-at-dalgety-bay-guest-article-on.html

    - scientific illiteracy undenied by SEPA http://www.dunfermlinepress.com/news/roundup/articles/2009/06/11/388386

    - SEPA threaten publicly funded legal action "reserve its position" if anybody says anything untrue about them http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2009/02/sepas-reaction.html so clearly they accept I haven't.

  28. Rupert Rumblebum
    Alert

    SO?

    Surely, the biggest warning should be reserved for Gordon Brown who, by HIS actions, has caused more problems for our country. Giving away our gold, allowing lies to be perpetrated by himself, and other government members, without comment from him. Really, we handled much greater radiation on Christmas Island during the bomb tests and afterwards. If he really wants to assist our lovely country to prosper he should activate his renowned (?) intellect in making liars admit their sins and show remorse for those sins. RUPERT RUMBLEBUM, OF WHOM IT HAS BEEN SAID!!!

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From the linked report:

    "A 1 MBq Ra-226 benchmark source will produce a surface absorbed dose in a 1 hour exposure of ~6 kGy over an area of 1 cm2. This is very likely to produce transient erythema and pigmentation and possibly superficial transient AEN. The same source will also deliver ~ 5.5 Gy over 1 cm2 at a depth of 70 μm, largely from beta radiation. This will produce a transient ulceration of the skin in about 10-50% of those exposed. The tissue damage resulting from the Ra-226 radiation exposure will thus be dominated by beta radiation, even taking into account alpha dose to thin skin regions of the body."

    Doesn't sound completely harmless to me...

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