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Sizewell: Ex-physicist rejects nuclear safety plans

10:00 14 January 2013

Sizewell C plans

Sizewell C plans

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AN emergency response agency is standing by proposed safety procedures for the Sizewell nuclear site despite scepticism from a former radiation safety specialist.

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Barrie Skelcher, a retired Sizewell A health physicist, sought to discredit plans to issue anti-radiation pills if proposals are approved for a new twin reactor.

He also labelled the Suffolk Resilience Forum’s proposed 4km emergency planning zone around the Sizewell site “quite arbitrary”, arguing for a technical assessment of the maximum amount of radioactivity released in the event of a credible accident.

But Suffolk’s current head of public protection said the proposals, which address the risk of a major accident at Sizewell, were based on national and global guidelines

Last week, the Suffolk Resilience Forum, which includes emergency services and local authorities, put forward plans to expand the current 2.4km zone to 4km, covering Leiston and much of Aldringham and Thorpeness, where everyone would receive potassium iodate pills to limit the absorption of radioactive iodine by the thyroid.

Mr Skelcher doubted the effectiveness of the pills if not taken soon enough. He said: “There is no tablet that will neutralise radiation. Unfortunately the concept that there is arises from plans to issue potassium iodate tablets which fill the thyroid gland with stable iodine before the radioactive iodine gets there.

“However the point that is conveniently overlooked is that the tablets should be taken before or very soon after exposure to the radio iodine. Taking them after about three to four hours means they have lost about half their effectiveness - after that, they are pretty well ineffective.

Mr Skelcher also expressed doubt over the 4km emergency zone, in spite of plans for a 15km “precautionary” zone covering Saxmundham. Aldeburgh and Southwold and more than a dozen villages, including Dunwich and Walberswick. He said: “This 4 km zone is quite arbitrary, what is needed is a technical assessment of the amount of radioactivity that would be released in the event of the maximum credible accident.”

Andy Fry, Suffolk County Council’s director of public protection and chair of the Suffolk Resilience Forum, said: “It is important that we have the views of those people around Sizewell before any decisions are made.

“The 4km zone is in line with guidelines issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Iodine tablets are used throughout the world and are intended to reduce the absorption of radiation. The tablets are pre-issued by NHS Suffolk on the recommendation of the Health Protection Agency.”

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