The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has again missed hundreds of radioactive hotspots contaminating Dalgety Bay on the Firth of Forth, prompting accusations that it cannot be trusted to carry on monitoring.
The Sunday Herald can reveal that in the latest surveys of the Fife foreshore last month the MoD found and removed 83 radioactive particles. A survey of half the same area shortly afterwards by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) found and removed a further 228 particles.
The failure of the MoD to detect most of the contamination was described a “cause for concern” by Sepa. “This reinforces the need to have credible investigation plans in place,” said a Sepa spokeswoman.
In December the Sunday Herald reported that previous monitoring of Dalgety Bay by the MoD had missed 442 radioactive hotspots. If the MoD fails to come up with credible clean-up plans by the end of this month, Sepa has said it will formally designate the bay as Britain’s first radioactively contaminated land in an attempt to force the MoD to act.
The new evidence of the MoD’s botched monitoring was condemned as “absolutely disgusting” by Annabelle Ewing, the SNP MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife. “All faith, if there was any left, has now been totally lost in the MoD – we can’t trust it to monitor the site,” she said.
She pointed out that the MoD had now missed at least 670 radioactive particles. “Is this down to incompetence or the fact it simply does not want to find anything?” she asked. “How long will the UK government allow this to drag on, causing pain and misery for the people of Fife? It’s time for urgent action.”
Fred Dawson, who worked for the MoD for 31 years before he left as head of the radiation protection policy team in 2009, accused his former employers of failing to take the pollution seriously. ‘The time is well past for further MoD surveys,” he said.
“This demonstrates the need for surveys to be independent of the MoD if they are to engender trust and confidence in the community. The MoD in all probability is the polluter and should fund all measures that Sepa deem necessary to remediate the beach so that it is fit for unrestricted use by the public.”
The Dalgety Bay Particles Advisory Group, which was set up by Sepa, met on Friday and expressed “continuing concern” at the discovery of more contamination. The group’s chairman, Alex Elliott, criticised “the continuing apparent inadequacy of the MoD’s current contractor in failing to detect particles which could pose a significant hazard to public health.”
Last week the UK defence minister, Andrew Robathan, visited Dalgety Bay and handed over a draft plan of action to Sepa. He declined, however, to accept liability for the pollution. “Who knows who's liable?” he said.
But according to Sepa, the contamination came from the dismantling and dumping of thousands of planes by a former military base in Dalgety Bay after the Second World War. The planes’ dials were painted with radioactive radium to make them visible at night, and remains of the dials have been found on the foreshore.
Sepa is currently considering the MoD’s draft plan. “We still expect to have final plans by the end of February to progress towards the remediation of Dalgety Bay," said a Sepa spokeswoman. "Sepa will continue with the necessary preparations for designation of the area as radioactive contaminated land in the event that this timescale is not met.”
The MoD accepted that there were “differences” between its monitoring and Sepa’s. “The findings from surveys undertaken at different times, by different teams and using different equipment are never going to be directly comparable,” said an MoD spokesman.
“MoD has welcomed and adopted the monitoring standard recently agreed by the independent expert group. This will provide greater consistency of monitoring.”