| Environmentalists say controls
on 369 farms highlight danger of plans to build nuclear plants around UK
Nearly 370 farms in Britain are still restricted
in the way they use land and rear sheep because of radioactive fallout
from the Chernobyl nuclear power station accident 23 years ago, the government
More than 130,000 people were resettled from the immediate area and experts say there should be no farming there for at least 200 years. The Food Standards Agency said the release of radiocaesium-137 in upland areas of Britain is still able to pass easily from soil to grass and accumulate in sheep.
The European Commission imposed a maximum limit of 1,000 becquerels per kilogram (bq/k) of radiocaesium in sheep meat affected by the accident to protect consumers. Under a "mark and release" scheme in the restricted areas, a farmer wishing to move animals out of the area must have them monitored by a hand-held device.
"Any sheep that exceed the working action level are marked with dye and are not released from restrictions," said a spokesman, who added that mass summer surveys of sheep are performed at farms where there is confidence that restrictions are no longer needed.
Huw Alun Evans's farm, Hengwrt Uchaf in north Wales, is one of the 369 inside one restricted area. Thousands of his sheep have been scanned for more than two decades. Evans's animals have failed radiation tests if they have been on higher ground, but the danger levels drop after they have been brought down to graze on lower pastures.
He says: "I remember a meeting with civil servants at the time  and got the impression they thought it would be short-lived. No-one had any idea it would go on this long."
Revelations about the continuing impact of the Chernobyl accident come weeks after three different sites were bought in auction by EDF and other power companies for building new atomic plants in Britain. The sites at Bradwell in Essex, Wylfa in Anglesey and Hinkley Point in Somerset were auctioned for £400m by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
A similar process is expected to start shortly for land near the huge Sellafield nuclear complex in Cumbria, as the government moves to put in place new electricity generating plants to provide relatively low-carbon power and bolster domestic energy sources at a time when old atomic stations are nearing the end of their lives.