MoD accused of Dounreay radiation leak cover-up

Vanguard, Britain's oldest nuclear submarine, is to have its reactor refuelled. Picture: Getty
Vanguard, Britain's oldest nuclear submarine, is to have its reactor refuelled. Picture: Getty
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THE Scottish Government has described as “completely unacceptable” a two-year delay by the Ministry of Defence before it revealed that an internal radiation leak had taken place on a nuclear submarine test reactor in Caithness.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told MPs yesterday that a problem was detected in January 2012 with a Vulcan test nuclear reactor near Dounreay, which is the same type as those used in the Vanguard and Astute class submarines based at Faslane on the Clyde.

Mr Hammond said that radiation levels had been detected in coolant water and further investigations had revealed a microscopic breach in metal cladding, but added that there was “zero risk”.

He announced £270 million will be spent on refuelling HMS Vanguard, the oldest vessel in the fleet, and bringing in contingency measures for the UK’s other Vanguard and Astute class submarines.

But he admitted that it took the MoD nine months to inform the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) “on a confidential basis” and that Scottish Government ministers were not informed until SNP environment secretary Richard Lochhead was briefed a few hours before Mr Hammond’s statement yesterday in the House of Commons.

After the statement, a source close to Mr Hammond said: “I think we all know how the SNP Scottish Government scaremongers on these issues.” The removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland has been a key plank of the Yes campaign and lies at the heart of the Scottish Government’s defence policy.

Scotland’s veterans minister Keith Brown said: “It is totally unacceptable that for almost two years the UK government failed to notify Scottish ministers on such an important issue.The Ministry of Defence, who are responsible for the regulation of operations and safety at Vulcan, informed Sepa of this situation in the summer of 2012 and requested that they were not to make this information more widely known for security reasons.”

SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson said: “The MoD knew how politically damaging this would be for the UK government, and it has taken two years for it to come to light – this smells of a cover-up.

“There are now serious questions to answer.

“We can only wonder what other nuclear secrets the UK government are keeping from the people of


In the House of Commons, Labour’s shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker asked Mr Hammond: “Why now this statement? And why is the House only being told today?

“Do you not think it would have been right to brief the official opposition spokesman on defence then?”

Following yesterday’s announcement, the UK’s oldest nuclear submarine HMS Vanguard is to have its reactor refuelled at a cost of £120m.

A further £150m will be spent on equipment to ensure other nuclear submarines can also be refuelled if further problems emerge.

John Ainslie of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said: “It is appalling that the Ministry of Defence have deliberately concealed for two years a major nuclear incident at Dounreay.”