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Olympic Park Radioactive Waste Scare as Regulations Breached

.: Olympic contractor tests a soil sample for radiation with a Geiger counter. Photo © Mike WellsOlympic contractor tests a soil sample for radiation with a Geiger counter. Photo © Mike Wells

A document obtained from an undisclosed source reveals that hazardous radioactive waste was excavated and moved within the London Olympic Park before official permission was granted.

In this document Vivienne Ramsey, head of planning for the Olympic project, warns the Olympic Delivery Authority …

“You are reminded that Remediation Change Notes [legal documents allowing work to continue] are intended to be issued and agreed prior to works being undertaken. The submitted Note is retrospective and therefore gives the Local Planning Authority no opportunity to comment on the adequacy of the proposed measures prior to them being carried out.”

The fact that work to excavate, handle, transport, and store this material was carried out before permission was granted is a serious breach of regulations, and places doubt on the safety of workers and local residents. The situation may also influence the legacy value of land and housing.

Though the authorities have known for some time that radioactive waste was buried in the Olympic Park it is not until now that the scale of the problem has emerged. Documents reveal that more than 7,000 tonnes of waste has been found on site to date, much of it unexpected. Some 7,300 tonnes has been placed in a radioactive storage bunker built into the approach to a bridge in the Olympic Park – within 250m of Stratford International station and around 400 metres from the Olympic Stadium. Olympic Delivery Authority contractors claim that the waste in the storage cell will be safe for at least 1,000 years. The waste, a legacy of the site’s industrial history, is something Olympic bosses have been trying to play down, stressing that it is “Low Level” and “naturally occurring” radioactive material.

However, Doctor Chris Busby, an expert on radiation and health, comments that radioactive material can be classified as Low Level or Naturally Occurring but still be extremely hazardous.

Dr Busby also notes that data on radioactive material in the Olympic Park shows a radiation signature which…

“suggests that the contamination is from significant levels of uranium. This should be considered to be a serious alpha and photoelectron emitter inhalation hazard.”

Much of the buried radioactive waste has been found on the site of the main stadium itself and includes radium, polonium, and thorium as well as uranium. The race to meet the Olympic deadline may have resulted in inadequate surveying, as the radioactive hazard was only detected after contaminated material had been unwittingly excavated.

Agencies with workers on site include the Environment Agency and the Police; neither of these agencies have any information on the risk assessment for any potential radiological uptake of their staff on the Olympic site.

One of the pathways for radiological uptake is from dust. Another document shows concerns over inadequate dust suppression on site. Residents living near the Olympic construction site have been complaining of dust from the site since works began in 2007, yet attempts to improve poor dust management measures have only been implemented relatively recently.

Doctor Busby comments that …

“if there is documentary evidence of the disposal of Thorium waste at the site, then this has to be taken seriously as Thorium dust represents a serious radiological inhalation hazard. “

Another request for data on radiation monitoring was refused by the Olympic Delivery Authority who say the cost of collating the data is too high, they claim …

“the public interest in maintaining the exemption [to withhold the information] outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.”

In another departure from normal practice, areas of the Olympic construction site that are contaminated with radioactive material are not marked with the familiar “radioactive roundel” but rather have been marked “Heavily Contaminated Area”.

© Mike J Wells July 2009

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