MoD must answer for Dalgety Bay


by a Newsnet reporter

The recent discovery of radioactive particles on a beach at Dalgety Bay has resulted in the closure of the area to the public, and fears that the land may be declared contaminated and put out of bounds indefinitely.  

The particles come from WW2 aircraft instrumentation which was painted with highly radioactive radium-226 in order to make it glow in the dark and be visible to RAF crew on night time missions.  After the war was over, the equipment was incinerated then abandoned in a landfill site at Dalgety Bay.  Years of slow coastal erosion have caused particles from the radioactive coating to leak out into the Firth of Forth where they are washed up on the neighbouring beach.

Radioactive material has been removed from the site since 1990, when the first discovery was made.  Attempts have been on-going ever since to get the MoD to take responsibility for the contamination and to take adequate steps to clear it up.

However it was revealed on Sunday that in 2009 MoD scientists had refused to analyse the radioactive particles citing health fears and the MoD had admitted that its primary concern was the cost of cleaning up the site.  The MoD has consistently downplayed any risks to public health posed by the radioactive particles.  The information was contained in the minutes of a meeting of the Dalgety Bay Risk Assessment Group held in March that year.  

Speaking to the Sunday Herald newspaper, Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said that he found the revelation “disturbing”.  Mr Lochhead said that he intended to contact Philip Hammond MP, the Defence Secretary who replaced Liam Fox.   Mr Lochhead said: “Foot-dragging by MoD officials must not continue to delay a final clean-up.

“Public safety is the number one priority, and the MoD must be completely open and transparent.  We absolutely must get to the root cause of this repeated contamination of Dalgety Bay.”

Yesterday the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) discovered dozens more radioactive particles on the shoreline, bringing the total found so far to over 1800 since 1990.  Last week, the beach was closed off to the public after the discovery of a highly radioactive lump of metal.  Over 200 fragments have been recovered since the start of the monitoring program on September 12 this year.

Dr James Gemmill, radioactive substances manager for SEPA, said the number of fragments recovered was higher than they had expected to find.

He said: “Over the next few days we will be undertaking analysis and a review of the sources recovered to date, which will provide the basis of further recovery work at Dalgety Bay.

“We expect to return to Dalgety Bay on Wednesday to continue the monitoring and recovery work.

“The number of finds is higher than we anticipated and therefore this work is progressing more slowly than we expected.  Each find is being returned to the lab for further assessment.”

Defence is one of the powers reserved to the Westminster Parliament and a local MP should represent his or her constituents’ interests to the Ministry of Defence.  However while the people of Dalgety Bay are faced with a radioactive health hazard caused by equipment abandoned by the MoD, the local MP for Dalgety Bay is nowhere to be seen.

That MP is Gordon Brown who has spoken just once in the House of Commons this year when he spoke of the News of the World hacking scandal and how the issue had affected him and his family personally.  

Mr Brown has made no public statement about the radioactive hazards at Dalgety Bay and does not appear to have intervened with the MoD on his constituents’ behalf.  In the absence of a voice for local people at Westminster, the SNP’s Annabelle Ewing, MSP for Mid Scotland & Fife, is seeking a debate in the Scottish Parliament.

Speaking yesterday Ms Ewing said:

“The UK government has an absolute obligation to put right this wrong and it could be said that Gordon Brown, as local MP, could and should have had this fixed during his years as Prime Minister.

“I have lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament to try and secure a debate on this important issue.

“I was outraged to learn from minutes of the Dalgety Bay Risk Assessment Group meeting, that MoD scientists argued against SEPA’s call for radioactive particles from the beach to be properly analysed, with the same set of minutes recording that MoD analysts were ‘not particularly keen to work with these samples due to concerns over dose rates from high-activity samples’.

“The Ministry of Defence owes action and answers to the people of Dalgety Bay over these shocking revelations that contradict assurances over the seriousness of this hazard and its possible consequences for public health.

“They MoD must accept their obligation to locate the sources of this contamination, deliver on a new plan to remove all sources of contamination without further delay and enable unrestricted and safe access to be restored to the Dalgety Bay waterfront.”

Rosyth councillor Cllr. Douglas Chapman has been campaigning on the issue and echoed the call for the MoD to step up to the plate regarding the latest radioactive find at a beach in Dalgety Bay, saying:

“We’ve had reports to the South West Fife Area Committee in the past and the MoD have always claimed that it was difficult for them to assess exactly the source of the radioactive contamination.  Given the seriousness of this latest find, the MoD must invest the necessary resources in locating the source and step up to the plate by clearing up their radioactive rubbish.

“It will cost a lot of money and I will be asking that the Area Committee call SEPA and the MoD back in to present a further report which will explain how they intend to step up to the plate and get this public safety issue fixed once and for all.

“The Area Committee also needs to look at how we can put further political pressure on the MOD and the British government to make sure they increase their efforts and get the job done to protect our citizens.”