More than three years after radioactive materials were found, the people of a Fife town are still awaiting a clean-up operation, writes Gordon Brown
How would you feel if 50 years ago the Ministry of Defence had dumped radiation in your back garden, found out it was a safety risk but didn’t tell you for 20 years?
And now, three years after more than 1,000 contaminated particles have been discovered – and six months after a warning from the health authorities – you are still waiting for the clean-up to begin.
This evening, in a debate in the House of Commons, I will call for justice for the residents of Dalgety Bay, in Fife, who have recently discovered that during the 1940s and 1950s more than 800 military aircraft were scrapped, incinerated and the ash, that included radiated particles, dumped near their sea shore.
The Bay’s foreshore – now cordoned off – is already the first area of the United Kingdom where a radiation risk study has had to measure the extent of contamination.
Dalgety Bay is also the first area to be the subject of what is called an “appropriate persons report” – a report under the legislation dealing with radiation contamination – which has been produced through very detailed research by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and has concluded that the polluter of the area is indeed the Ministry of Defence.
And the town is now at risk of being named the only radiation-contaminated area in the UK, even named above areas where there are nuclear weapons, power stations and nuclear waste stores, a designation that would blight the community, harm the environment and cause difficulties to the town that would last as long as we can see ahead.
Yet two years after the Ministry of Defence set out a timetable for action, residents of Dalgety Bay have yet to see the obvious happen – a start by polluter, the Ministry of Defence, to the crucial and necessary clean-up.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency risk assessment has reported that: “The total number of radioactive particles that have now been recovered since the beginning of our investigation in September, 2011 is more than 1,000.
“Of these sources, five had a radioactivity content of greater than 1 MBq of Radium-226…”, a level the health agencies say, in a separate report, creates a safety risk.
But while the Ministry of Defence investigation report of February, 2012, promised that they would outline the options for remedial action, by May, 2013, no options paper has been published, none of the options has been costed and none of the clean-up has yet been agreed.
And now as the December storms wash up more particles, at the rate of 100 a month, and coastal erosion continues apace, we face another winter of total inactivity.
Delays at Dalgety Bay are all the more unacceptable because nearby in Almond Bank, Perth and in Machrihanish, where similar contamination was discovered, clean-ups were agreed and carried out because it was a condition of sale of the land.
What’s worse, in a confidential letter exchanged between the MoD, the pollution inspectorate and Lord James Douglas Hamilton, the Scottish Office Minister, as long ago as 1990, the Ministry acknowledged responsibility for dumping the aircraft.
Now, 23 years after ministers “seemed willing to help with both further monitoring and with any remedial action which may be necessary,” the people of Dalgety Bay are still waiting for a resolution.
And they will become even angrier in the next few days when, in a fanfare of publicity, the Ministry of Defence will announce it will break up its nuclear-powered submarines at Rosyth but it has no site yet outside Rosyth for storing intermediate nuclear waste.
I cannot see how the Ministry can command any public confidence for promising the safe storage of either low level or intermediate level radioactive waste until they reassure people of the next door town that they will take responsibility for cleaning up the radiation waste at Dalgety Bay.
We simply cannot have a situation where new waste is dumped in Fife but the MoD cannot give us assurances that they are cleaning up existing waste.
This year, 2013, must end with a commitment from the Ministry of Defence that they will clean up, pay up and do it quickly.
• Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath