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06 August 2003


The Editor

The Daily Telegraph

1 Canada Square

Canary Wharf

London E14 5DT UK


Sir &endash;


My attention has been called to a dispatch which appeared in the Daily Telegraph

on 24 June, under the headline "Minister wants Sellafield ban" concerning the

consequences of the detection of long&endash;lived radioactive technetium&endash;99 in farmed



Short&endash;lived technecium is regularly administered in radioactive studies of heart

function: it is chemically similar to potassium thereby permitting the radiologist to

follow the behaviour of potassium in the heart. As a scientist, I like to deal with

numbers. It appears that Sellafield proposed to release 30 terra&endash;becquerels of

technecium-&endash;99 into the North Sea (

http://www.bellona.no/en/energy/nuclear/sellafield/30157.html ). It seems

reasonable to assume that previous Sellafield discharges, those detected in farmed

salmon, were of the same size. That sounds like a lot &endash; a terra&endash;whatever is a

million million, although a becquerel is pretty small.


Although I am a scientist, I don't grasp large numbers any better than the next

fellow. But I have a trick to reduce them to numbers I can get hold of. Let me

apply it here.


The volume of the North Sea is 54 000 cubic kilometers, or 54 terra&endash;cubic meters

&endash; another large number. My trick is to divide one large number by the other. When

we do that we find that the suppressed Sellafield discharge would inject one&endash;half

becquerel of Tc&endash;99 into each cubic meter of North Sea water.


Now the sea can hardly be said to be dangerously radioactive. Yet it does contain

380 grams of potassium per cubic meter, and potassium is naturally radioactive to

the extent of about 31 becquerel per gram. Thus sea water contains almost 12 000

becquerel of potassium per cubic meter.


(I would point out in passing that the ionisaton produced by technecium decay is

five times smaller than the ionisation produced by potassium decay.)


That the scientists of the Norwegian Bellona Foundation are able to discern half a

becquerel of Tc-99 in farmed salmon in the presence of 12 000 becquerel of

potassium is, to my mind, a triumph of analytical science. But it is also a tragedy

that Bellona uses this triumph of analytical science as a club to beat nuclear energy

over the head.


Yours very truly,


Berol ROBINSON, active member and American correspondent of EFN - www.ecolo.org