Radioactive waste heads for Suffolk

ALARM was voiced today after villagers discovered radioactive cargoes are passing just yards from their homes on road and rail after being unloaded at Felixstowe port.

ALARM was voiced today after villagers discovered radioactive cargoes are passing just yards from their homes on road and rail after being unloaded at Felixstowe port.

How much radioactive material is handled by Britain's biggest container terminal has not been disclosed, but government experts reassured the public that all rules and regulations were being followed for its transportation.

Concern has been increased after it was revealed that two containers of radioactive material are due to arrive at the port from South Korea on Friday.

The Evening Star understands that the containers are not carrying nuclear waste but packaging material which was used to protect radioactive material or devices.

The packaging has been contaminated with traces of radioactivity from its contact with the consignment it was protecting and is being brought back to Britain for disposal.

The radioactivity involved is understood to be classed as low-level.

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The two containers from Pusan are due to arrive on the 5,306-box vessel Hanjin London, a round the world service which started its voyage in Qingdao and this week has made calls at Rotterdam and Hamburg.

It is not known whether the boxes will leave the port via the Felixstowe-Ipswich rail line or the A14, though either can be used for low-level radiation loads – and its destination is a mystery.

Suffolk Coastal councillor for the Trimleys, James Bidwell said it was "alarming" that such dangerous loads could come so close to homes by rail – the line runs at the bottom of gardens in Chatsworth Crescent and Second Avenue – or road, next to the Farmlands estate.

"I am quite shocked by this and I would like to know how much of this sort of material is coming out of the docks in containers," said Mr Bidwell.

"To think we have this sort of material passing so close to homes – even more homes if the Trimley vision development was to go-ahead – is quite alarming, especially when you think of the potential for a derailment or an accident."

Residents were astonished to know the rail line could be used for radioactive material.

"It's very worrying because sooner or later there is bound to be a rail or major road incident and we just have to pray that it will not be radioactive material in that container when it does," said one householder in Chatsworth Crescent.

A neighbour added: "It's not just radioactive stuff – those boxes could have acids and other dangerous chemical in them and we would have no chance to get away if one burst open and sent its vapour over our homes."

Port corporate affairs manager Paul Davey said the port was legally obliged to handle all cargoes which were legal and packaging complied with current rules and regulations. Portworkers were trained to handled specialist and hazardous goods in line with current government regulations.

Mike Southgate, office manager for Hanjin at Felixstowe, said he had not been informed of any unusual cargo arriving but the Hanjin London was used as a carrier by other shipping companies as part of a consortium.

Details of customers and their cargoes were confidential. He was aware that low-level radioactive loads had been carried previously but these could include empty containers returning after exporting radioactive materials.

WEBLINKS: www.hanjin.com

www.nrpb.org

www.shipping.dft.gov.uk/trm/index.htm

www.portoffelixstowe.co.uk

N See page 6 for The Evening Star opinion

panel:

LOW-level radioactive cargo can be carried on Britain's roads and railways in special containers tested to be accident-proof.

The National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), which advises the industry and the Department of Transport on radioactivity, said: "Although transport in the nuclear industry receives most of the public attention, there are many other uses in industry, research and medicine.

"Worldwide some ten million packages containing radioactive materials are transported each year."

The Department of Transport is responsible for setting the rules for transportation, guided by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The NRPB said ports had to adhere to strict regulations, as did train and lorry drivers, whose loads must be properly labelled and accompanied by full documentation, as for all hazardous cargo.

Packaging was the biggest issue, and this must be appropriate for the level of radioactivity. In most low-level consignments, radioactive material would be carried in lead, surrounded by polystyrene in a metal container, and then surrounded by polystyrene and cardboard, and housed in a metal container.

This packaging and higher-level cargo carriers had been tested for accidents by being immersed in water, dropped, punctured, crushed and held in high temperature fire for 30 minutes.

In the UK in the past few years there had been an annual average of between 30 and 50 accidents, most involving road transport and all extremely minor.

n A spokesman for the BNFL plant at Sellafield said the Felixstowe cargo was not destined for the processing plant. The company mostly handled nuclear waste which is delivered via its own ships to Barrow.

n What do you think – is it safe to transport radioactive material on our roads and railways? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

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