Radioactive spills in Scotland

Published 28 April 2009

U.K. Ministry of Defense reveals a series of serious radioactive leaks in 2004, 2007, and 2008 into the Firth of Clyde

This cannot be good news for supporters of nuclear power. The U.K. Ministry of Defense (MoD) has disclosed that a series of serious safety breaches involving repeated leaks of radioactive waste, broken pipes, and waste tanks took place at a naval base on the Clyde. The worst breaches include three leaks of radioactive coolant from nuclear submarines in 2004, 2007, and 2008 into the Firth of Clyde, while last year a radioactive waste plant manager was replaced. It emerged he had no qualifications in radioactive waste management.

SNP Westminster leader and defense spokesperson, Angus Robertson MP, has described the disclosure as “utterly damning.” “This disclosure reveals repeated and serious nuclear safety breaches, and the MoD cannot be above the law. We are not talking about a one-off incident but a whole catalog of serious and, frankly, shocking failures,” he said.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) does not have formal regulatory powers in respect of the holding of radioactive material in, or radioactive releases from MoD premises including HM Naval Base Clyde because the MoD has an exemption from the Radioactive Substances Act 1993.

At a civilian installation, the SEPA could consider suspending certain activities until improvements had been made in essential equipment, operating procedures and training to prevent a recurrence of an unauthorized release.