06 January 2013
An inspection of the Dounreay nuclear plant by the European Commission (EC) in 1993 sparked a furious row between Edinburgh and London, newly released official files reveal.
The then Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in Whitehall accused the Scottish Office of driving a “coach and horses” through a secret agreement limiting the scope of EC inspections.
DTI officials were suspicious that EC inspectors were trying to extend their powers to examine radioactive discharges to the environment “by the backdoor”. They urged Scottish officials to take a much tougher line with the EC, and threaten to postpone the inspection.
The EC’s demand to inspect discharge and monitoring equipment was “especially disquieting”, wrote a senior DTI official. “The conciliatory approach taken in your draft letter may be of questionable value,“ he said. “We would prefer a much stronger reply.”
This pressure was, however, resisted by the Scottish Office, and the inspection went ahead as planned on 10-14 May 1993. But when the EC’s draft report was later received by Scottish officials, the row flared up again.
A UK government official demanded to see the report as soon as possible to “sooth any ruffled Whitehall feathers”. He said that DTI was anxious because it wanted to restrict another planned EC inspection of the Sellafield nuclear complex in Cumbria.
The Scottish Office initially refused to release the report, which contained a few mild criticisms of procedures at Dounreay in Caithness. When DTI did get to see the report, officials dismissed it as “unbalanced”.
The DTI was worried that the EC was seeking “creeping competence” over discharge monitoring,” said an inspector from Her Majesty’s Industrial Pollution Inspectorate in Edinburgh. “Given DTI’s generally negative attitude to the verification visits this response is not surprising.”
He added: “The Scottish Office trod a delicate line between UK sensitivities during the visit and EC desires to carry out a meaningful and thorough verification. I believe we achieved the right balance.”