As many as 50 military bases and numerous civilian sites in Britain could have been contaminated with radioactive waste, says a government scientist. Ron Brown, from the Ministry of Defence's radiological protection service in Portsmouth (DRPS), warns that much of the contamination from old radium facilities is still to be uncovered.
Brown, a health physicist, has been overseeing the clean-up of one of the worst polluted military bases over the last five years. The MoD is spending two and a half million pounds digging up and disposing of large volumes of radioactive soil from RAF Carlisle, a former military equipment depot on the outskirts of the northern English city.
The contamination was discovered by accident in 1992, says Brown. Someone was walking across a patch of ground with a radiation monitor switched on and it suddenly started clicking quickly. Surveys later revealed that large areas of the 150-hectare site contained radium 226, which was used before 1960 to luminise paint for aircraft dials.