FPSO North Sea Producer Poses Radiation Hazard
Investigative reporting group Danwatch has confirmed that the FPSO North Sea Producer, beached for scrapping at Chittagong, contains dangerous quantities of radioactive materials. Masud Kamal, an inspector at Bangladesh’s Atomic Energy Center, told Danwatch that test results from some areas of the ship showed radiation in excess of allowable limits.
Bangladesh's Ministry of the Environment halted scrapping of the vessel in November on suspicions that it contained unsafe amounts of naturally-occuring radioactive materials, and the report appears to confirm their concerns. Bangladesh's Supreme Court is expected to weigh in soon on the question of whether the government erred in allowing the vessel to be beached, and it will consider which parties may have liability related to its presence on Bangladeshi shores. Maersk, the ship's part owner and operator, says that it properly reported the presence of radioactive material to cash buyer GMS (Global Marketing Systems), the scrap broker that bought the vessel.
Oil isn't normally associated with radiation, but the U.S. EPA says that naturally occurring radioactive elements like radium can end up in a well's produced water in significant quantities. This material can concentrate in a production platform's water handling system, settling out as a sediment or forming a mineral scale. Concentrations of these radioactive materials vary markedly, but older fields that rely on well-stimulation – like the MacCulloch field, the Producer's former site – generate more produced water and may bring more dangerous material to the surface. The concern is real: accumulated radioactive material caused a brief disruption to work on the Thistle platform last year, when six workers were exposed to low levels of contamination and had to be "down-manned" for medical assessments.
Maersk has received considerable public criticism for the Producer's beaching, and not only for concerns related to hazardous waste. Activists say that the poor labor conditions and environmental standards at Bangladeshi yards lead to high fatality rates and health problems, and they have long called for shipowners to send outdated tonnage to non-beaching facilities. In October, Maersk said that it was "very, very sorry" that the North Sea Producer ended up in Bangladesh.