06 February 2007
More than forty years after it first started illegally contaminating the environment with radioactivity, the Dounreay nuclear plant has finally admitted guilt.
The Caithness plant's operator, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), pleaded guilty at Wick Sheriff Court today to four charges of breaching radiation safety legislation. The sentence was deferred until 15th February.
Three of the charges were brought because thousands of radioactive fuel fragments leaked into the sea from Dounreay between 1963 and 1984, polluting local beaches and prompting a ban on fishing. The fourth charge arose because radioactive rubble from the nuclear plant was dumped on a local landfill site between 1963 and 1975.
The UKAEA was convicted under the Radioactive Substances Act for "unauthorised disposals" of radioactive waste to drains and to landfill. It was also found guilty of a "failure to prevent fragments of irradiated nuclear fuel being discharged into the environment".
The UKAEA's director of safety, Dr John Crofts, accepted that mistakes had been made. "UKAEA deeply regrets that some particles were released from the site," he said.
"Our priority today is to rectify those errors and minimise their impact on the environment. The practices which gave rise to these particles ceased long ago and we are now focussed on our mission to remediate the site and deal with the particles."
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), which initiated the prosecution, welcomed Dounreay's conviction. "This outcome serves as a valuable lesson to UKAEA and others that poor waste management practices will not be tolerated," said the agency's chief executive, Campbell Gemmell.
"Our message to everyone that we regulate is that we will help you to do the right thing. However, if you don't take your responsibilities seriously, we will take strong action."