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LONDON (AP) — Elevated radiation levels detected Friday at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in northwestern England were caused by naturally occurring background radon, not by any faults at the aging plant, the operating company said. Only essential workers were asked to report for work as safety teams worked to pinpoint the cause of the elevated radiation, which was reported on one monitor in the northern end of the sprawling site — the largest nuclear site in Europe. Sellafield Ltd. said its on-site monitors detected unusual activity overnight, leading it to reduce staffing levels Friday morning as a precaution. "Following investigation and analysis, we can now confirm these levels to be naturally occurring background radon," the company said. The plant was never shut down and there was no evacuation. The company said there had been no risk to public safety. Nuclear reprocessing involves separating uranium and plutonium from nuclear waste for reuse as fuel, and treating the waste for storage. Reprocessing has taken place at Sellafield for more than 50 years.
But no radon detected until now?
Occasionally, gamma radiation levels can increase temporarily due to a phenomenon called radon washout. This occurs when rain collects radon from the air and deposits it on the ground.
It results in a small - but detectable - increase in the gamma dose rate measurement, which usually lasts no more than few hours. This increase poses no health risk, but may trigger the RPII alarm system – if this happens, the RPII duty officer examines the data to confirm whether or not the gamma dose rate has been caused by radon washout.