Norman Macleod didn't hear the little piece of history that had just been announced in the Harris Hotel in Tarbet because he was, in his own words, "very old and very deaf". But when the chairwoman explained it to him, his reaction was memorable.
The retired policeman slowly put his huge hands together and started clapping. Like all the other islanders in the room, he was overcome with relief. A long, painful saga was at last at an end.
Depleted uranium (DU) is still contaminating the military firing range near Kirkcudbright in the south of Scotland, according to an unpublished Ministry of Defence survey.
Since 1982 over 90 shells have been misfired or malfunctioned and scattered fragments of DU, which is radioactive and chemically toxic, across the ground. Despite searches, some of the fragments have never been found and recovered.
Public health was put at risk by over a hundred leaks of
radioactivity over 13 years at a military base in the Western Isles, according
to a report just declassified by the Ministry of Defence.
Details of one of Scotland's most serious series of
radiation accidents at a firing range on South Uist have been kept secret for
25 years. High levels of cobalt-60, put in the nose cones of missiles to
measure their accuracy, contaminated the ground, buildings and vehicles way in
excess of today's safety limits.
Encased in magnesium and designed to dissolve in water,
cobalt-60 was fired out to sea on thousands of missiles between 1967 and 1979.
Unfortunately a large number were also left out in the open at the base,
ensuring that they got wet, fizzed and leaked.
"Whoever was in charge of looking after them was
shockingly inept," said Calum MacDonald, the MP for the Western Isles.
"It's quite a staggering story."
In February, he asked the Ministry of Defence to release an
official summary of the contamination. As a result last week a 1981 report by
the Institute of Naval Medicine at Alverstoke in Hampshire was placed in the
library of the House of Commons.