Exclusive, 30 January 2014
The Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, has backed the Scottish government’s refusal to reveal how many potassium iodate pills were stored, and where.
Potassium iodate tablets are an established way of preventing people exposed to radiation from contracting thyroid cancers. They prevent radioactive iodine, like that released by the 1986 accident at Chernobyl in the Ukraine, from contaminating the thyroid gland.
In a decision to be published next week, Agnew has ruled that Scottish ministers were right to withhold the information on grounds of national security. They had argued that publishing the numbers and locations of the pills would reveal the UK’s capability to respond to a radiological attack by terrorists.
The risk of such an attack was “substantial”, ministers said. The information about the pills “would be greatly beneficial to terrorist organisations or foreign powers who would know how to harm Scotland and the UK most effectively”.
According to Agnew, ministers argued that the pill stores would become targets for an attack or theft. “It would also indicate where the country was geographically weakest (furthest from the storage locations) and potentially where an attack would be most effective,” she said.
Ministers further warned that if Agnew did order publication of the pill locations, they would have to be moved “to maintain security”.
Agnew found the ministers’ arguments “persuasive” and was satisfied that the information was “highly sensitive”. She concluded that disclosing the pill stores would be not be in the public interest because it would endanger public safety.
This is despite the fact that the power company, EDF Energy, has published details of its potassium iodate stocks at the Torness nuclear station in East Lothian. But Agnew argued that this was different as it only applied to a limited geographical area.
The information about the Scottish government’s stockpiles “concerns access to medicines held for the whole of Scotland’s population in response to any potential radiological or nuclear incident,” she said.
The decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner can be downloaded here (342KB pdf).