Claims of MoD cover-up at Dounreay after locals told all was normal

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  By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
 
Fresh evidence has emerged showing locals were kept in the dark over the Dounreay nuclear submarine test reactor leak throughout a series of meetings in the immediate aftermath, fuelling concerns of an Ministry of Defence cover up.
 
Defence secretary Philip Hammond confirmed to Westminster last week that a radiation leak was found at Dounreay’s Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment in January 2012, sparking fury from the Scottish Government.  Ministers in Scotland were not told about the radiation threat until minutes before Mr Hammond informed the House of Commons.

It then emerged that while the Scottish Government was not informed, the Ministry of Defence did alert the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and the organisation was kept in the loop from October 2012 onwards.

Now, evidence has come to light that throughout a series of meetings in 2012 with the Dounreay Stakeholder Group Site Restoration Sub Group – chaired by SNP councillor George Farlow and with representation from Highland council, community groups and trade unions – members were routinely told that everything was “business as usual”, “on schedule” and there was “little to report”.

Following the defence secretary’s revelation, Councillor Farlow said: “I am shocked and angry that our group – which is supposed to keep the local community informed and reassured – was so blatantly misled by the MoD.

“The MoD has real questions to answer about why it thinks such behaviour is acceptable and more seriously, just what else they have failed to tell us.”

Minutes from 2012 meetings show that despite the leak’s detection in January 2012 no mention was made of the problem at subsequent meetings throughout the year. On 25 April, MoD Commander Michael Moreland attended a meeting and told members that it was business as usual at the site, while at a meeting in July Commander Ken Dyke was quoted as saying that “the Vulcan trails programme is continuing on schedule”.

The truth was that levels of radioactivity had been found in the test reactor’s cooling waters, a development so concerning that HMS Vanguard – which uses the same type of reactor – will be refuelled in 2015 as a precaution, costing £120m.

Rob Gibson, SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, called for immediate transparency over the incident.

“It beggars belief that not only did the Ministry of Defence not inform the Scottish people, the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government about this radiation leak, they actually told local community representatives that there was little to report when clearly there was plenty that they should have been told.

“They then told them it was business as usual, when that clearly was not the case – and indeed the Vulcan reactor was shut down for a period of several months in 2012.  It makes a mockery of this community engagement process if the MoD simply misleads people about what is really going on.

“There must be complete transparency when nuclear incidents like this occur, given the potential impact on the environment and the local community.  Having actively misled the local community on this incident, how on earth are people in the area meant to trust a word that the MoD says?”

The incident is the latest to hit the troubled plant in recent years.  In October 2011, just months before the Vulcan leak was detected, radioactive liquid effluent was found to have leaked inside a treatment facility, prompting an investigation from Sepa.  Dounreay’s nuclear reactors are currently being decommissioned, at a cost of £2.6bn, but deep concerns over safety have dogged the process.