By Chris Rumbles
The Scottish Government has accused the MoD of “disrespect” after it emerged a radiation problem at Dounreay’s nuclear submarine test centre was kept private for two years.
UK Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond today informed the House of Commons that the cooling waters around the prototype reactor based in Dounreay were found to have low levels of radioactivity in January 2012.
Both the Independent Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) were notified at the time but the Scottish Government was only informed today [Thursday].
The decision to not report the event to the Scottish Government prompted Scottish Veterans Minister Keith Brown to write to Phillip Hammond requesting a meeting to ensure “such disrespect” did not recur.
Speaking in the Commons, Defence Secretary Hammond explained the initial measures taken: “When the coolant radioactivity was first detected, the reactor was shut down as a precaution. Following investigations and a series of trials, and with the agreement of the relevant regulator, the reactor was restarted in November 2012 and is continuing to operate safely.”
Hammond also said that the cause of the radioactivity was still unknown but that it was thought there had been a “microscopic breach” in the metal cladding surrounding one of the fuel elements within the reactor’s core.
The event in Dounreay has led to the Defence Secretary taking the decision to refuel the nuclear reactor in HMS Vanguard, one of the UK’s 4 ballistic missile submarines, because of new concerns raised over its operating life.
A spokesperson for the SEPA said the Dounreay incident was requested by the MoD to “be kept on a strict need to know basis for security reasons” and that because the radioactivity was within safe limits they did not tell the Scottish Government.
SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, Rob Gibson, was incensed by the revelation and argued the only sure-fire way for Scotland to remove Trident was through independence.
He said: “It is totally unacceptable that for almost two years the UK Government failed to notify Scottish Ministers on such an important issue. The actions of the MoD in this matter reveal contempt for the local population and require immediate answers.
“It is vital that the people of the Far North and across Scotland hear the truth from Westminster on this leak.”
The Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence stated that an independent Scotland would seek to remove Trident nuclear weapons from the Clyde by 2020.
Polling conducted in October 2012 by YouGov on behalf of the SNP asked Scots ‘Should the Scottish Parliament have more powers to remove Trident nuclear weapons from Scottish waters?’ with 46 per cent of people saying ‘Yes, I do’ and 35 per cent saying ‘No, I don’t’.