As the #c4newspopup team crosses the UK, North of England Correspondent Ciaran Jenkins solves one of North Yorkshire’s seaside mysteries.
It is a hazy August day in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, a resort in Redcar and Cleveland at the far tip of North Yorkshire. There are donkey rides, ice cream stalls and at least three different places to buy your fish and chips.
Everything is as it should be by the British seaside, except for the mysterious appearance of dozens of little blue balls.
“I’ve been coming across these balls for years,” said Nick Noble, who runs the Saltburn Beach Surf School.
“We do a regular litter pick on the beach. It’s spotless otherwise, so they really stand out.”
“We call them UFOs – Unidentified Floating Objects.”
The balls are made of polystyrene, have a spongy texture and measure around 20mm in diameter.
Christine Burniston, who organises donkey rides on the beach, says the balls are a common sight.
“Are you joking?” she asks, incredulous, when I tell her the source.
In response to questions from Channel 4 News, responsibility for the balls has now been claimed by the Hartlepool nuclear power station. The balls are “taprogge balls”, used as part of the cleaning process for sea water in the plant’s cooling systems.
“They are flushed through our coolers and are usually caught at the end of the process,” a spokesperson for the power station said.
“However, on occasion, some of the station’s taprogge balls, which are not radioactive, do get into the sea where they can eventually wash up on local beaches.
“The balls are made of natural rubber and will harmlessly degrade once in the environment.
“We are working closely with the Environment Agency on this issue.”
I told Ms Burniston that the balls were not radioactive. She was far from reassured.
“We have children playing here,” she said.
“And what if the donkeys eat them?”
Mr Noble from the Surf School was not impressed either:
“They say they’re not contaminated, but they shouldn’t be getting out from the power station in the first place.
“We do a lot of work keeping this beach clean, so this does us no favours at all.”