Scotland’s secret nuclear disaster plan revealed

An abandoned amusement park in Prypyat, close to Chernobyl - a reminder that nuclear power can go wrong. Picture: Getty
An abandoned amusement park in Prypyat, close to Chernobyl - a reminder that nuclear power can go wrong. Picture: Getty
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A SECRET plan to deal with a Chernobyl-style nuclear emergency in central Scotland has finally been revealed in a dossier which has been kept under wraps for decades.

The classified documents which show how the government would have responded to a full-scale atomic crisis have been opened and placed in the National Archives.

Hunterston Power Station. Picture: Getty

Hunterston Power Station. Picture: Getty

The files outline the steps that would have been taken if lethal substances had leaked from the twin Hunterston A and B nuclear plants on the Ayrshire coast.

They reveal that staff at Scotland’s largest hospital were primed to treat victims suffering from burns and radiation sickness, a community centre would have been converted into a decontamination zone and residents would have been issued with anti-radiation tablets.

They also show that the strategy for a mass public evacuation revolved around police officers knocking on residents’ doors and politely advising them to leave.

The dossier, which contains documents dating from 1976 to 1983, states: “If radioactive material is released from Hunterston A and B power stations it may create a hazard for members of the public. On the occurrence of an emergency alert, the direction and activity of the radioactive plume will be ascertained and an estimate made of the number of persons at risk.”

It states that materials kept at the twin plants present a range of risks, including: “combustion, asphyxiation, toxicity and exposure to ionising radiation”.


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Emergency steps to protect the public are then outlined in a contingency document, which states: “Police officers will proceed to each house in the affected sectors and deliver potassium iodate tablets to each householder and a letter explaining the purpose of the tablets, the need for evacuation, the transport arrangements and the location of the reception centre.

“Police transport will follow the notification of evacuation.

“It is essential that evacuation of persons will commence not later than one hour after the police have been requested to begin operations.

“If the evacuation takes place during school hours, the police will contact headmasters.”

The letter, which would have been handed to thousands of terrified residents, states: “Dear Sir/Madam, an incident at Hunterston nuclear power station has resulted in the release of substances which could be harmful if breathed or eaten. You are advised to move immediately to a reception centre which is being set up at West Kilbride Community Centre.

“Whilst awaiting transportation please remain indoors and keep all windows and external doors closed as much as possible.

“Keep your radio or television tuned to the BBC for any special instructions.”

Each person arriving at the emergency reception centre was to be examined to “establish the degree of external and internal contamination received”.

Those with lesser traces of radiation were to be decontaminated on site, while those with injuries or higher levels were to be taken to a special ward at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Efforts would then be undertaken to evaluate “the number of people affected by fumes, explosion, damage, burns or radioactivity”, to clear and clean up affected areas and to destroy contaminated food, milk and livestock.

Hunterston A was opened by the Queen in September 1964, but stopped producing electricity in 1990 and is currently being decommissioned. The neighbouring Hunterston B plant was opened in 1976 and is due to operate until 2023 – well beyond its original planned closure date.

Last year Nicola Sturgeon, the then deputy first minister – a long-term opponent of nuclear power – expressed “deep concern” after it emerged that cracks had been found in one of the plant’s reactors.

Owners EDF, the French energy firm, insisted the problem would not affect the safe operation of the station.


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