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Atomic River

Atomic waste dumped into London's water for 50 years

by ANDREW GILLIGAN and ROB EVANS, Sunday Telegraph, 13th July, 1997.

UP T0 20,000 gallons of water containing tritium and other radioactive substances have been pumped into London's drinking water supply every day for the past 50 years, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

Previously secret documents have also shown that although some scientists from the Atomic Energy Authority had fears about the safety of pumping any amount of radioactivity into the Thames these were concealed from the water authorities.

The documents disclose that ministers were deeply concerned at the scope of the AEA's dumping ambitions, with one Tory giving a warning that the maximum emission limit for tritium proposed by the scientists would have caused a "measurable genetic effect" on the capital's population.

The scientists were not allowed this high a limit, but did win a seven-fold increase in tritium discharges despite fierce opposition from the water boards.

Recently-declassified documents in the Public Record Office show that discharges from the authority's sites at Aldermaston, Harwell and Amersham to the Thames began secretly in 1948, with he Metropolitan Water Board expressing "great regret and dissatisfaction" at the potential effects on the drinking supply.

The radioactive effluent was fed into the river at Sutton Courtenay, near Abingdon, Pangbourne, near Reading, and Staines, Middlesex, where it came in via the river Colne. All three are upstream of the intake pipes for London's drinking water.

The authority insisted that the discharges were safe. But an "extremely confidential" memo - withheld from the water board - stressed that it was "vitally important" that people were dissuaded from paddling, bathing or sailing in the cut which led from the out pipe to the river.

The Atomic Weapons establishment

Radioactive waste discharge map


Further Reading:

Thames water website

Radioactive Discharges Report

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