Saturday, 15 October 2011

Radioactive lockdown on the shores of Fife

By Claire Smith

A SECTION of Scottish coastline has been cordoned off after scientists found a radioactive object ten times more contaminated than any found there before.

Particles were first found on the shoreline of Dalgety Bay more than 20 years ago and the contamination has been linked to childhood cancer.

The radiation is believed to originate from radium coatings from dials on military aircraft based at Donibristle airbase which were incinerated after the Second World War.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has said around 100 new radioactive fragments wash up at Dalgety Bay each year.

Sepa expert Dr Paul Dale said the level of contamination found recently in one fairly large piece of debris found in Dalgety Bay measured ten megabecquerels.

Previously the highest level of radiation measured in the area was 1.1 megabecquerels. “What has changed is that this particle is ten times more active than anything we have found before.”

He said the radiation in the object uncovered was of a high enough level to cause burns to the skin. Radioactive particles can also cause health problems if injested – particularly by a child.

Sepa scientists now believe the radioactive material is coming from landfill containing aircraft debris that is now eroding into the sea.

The agency’s chief executive, Dr Campbell Gemmell, said: “Over the weekend, Sepa scientists continued to investigate an area of the foreshore of Dalgety Bay. Further sources were found.

“An initial reading of activity in one of these sources has given sufficient concern for Sepa to have asked Fife Council to restrict access to the area.

“On Wednesday, Fife Council cordoned off an area of the foreshore close to the public footpath and temporarily erected further warning signs. In the short term, Sepa will continue the current investigation and ensure the removal of any further sources detected.”

Scottish environment secretary Richard Lochhead has now written to the Ministry of Defence calling for action.

He said: “We will continue to press the MoD to resolve the matter and, following the most recent survey work at Dalgety bay, I will be writing to the Secretary of State for Defence today to call for immediate action, and that the MoD meets its responsibilities.

“We absolutely must get to the root cause of this repeated contamination of Dalgety Bay, and I want to reassure the local community that we will do everything in our power to prevent, once and for all, any radioactive sources being a significant hazard to the public.”

Helen Eadie, Labour MSP for Cowdenbeath, said: “I have been pursuing this issue for a number of years and it is vital now that we get an accurate assessment of this new information. I am seeking an urgent meeting with Sepa to progress matters, as the most important consideration must be the welfare and well-being of local people.”

Fife councillor Alice McGarry, whose ward includes Dalgety Bay, said: “Something needs to be done and we need to get to the bottom of this once and for all.”

Stan Blackley, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “We’ve known about the radioactive items on Dalgety Bay since at least 1990, yet we’re still getting nasty surprises on a regular basis.

“It’s highly worrying that nuclear materials are still being uncovered, that there has been little effort to actually deal with this problem over the past twenty years.

“We still have no idea of the scale and number of radioactive items present, and the potential threat they pose to public health.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “The MoD has been working with Sepa and the Dalgety Bay Forum to resolve the issues at Dalgety Bay.”

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