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Is the Ministry of Defence responsible for radioactive pollution in Dalgety Bay?

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has found more than 200 radioactive particles on the shore at Dalgety Bay, a pretty town on the Fife coast. 

Dalgety Bay hosted a wartime airfield, where many aircraft were dismantled. They were used as landfill after the Second World War and it is thought erosion has led to radioactive radium from the aircraft dials leaking on to the foreshore. 

Why the delay? 

The Ministry of Defence is investigating the scale of the problem and ways it might be put right, but has not promised a full and final clean-up of the bay, despite calls for it to do so from the local MP and former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and a recent discovery of particles far more radioactive than those previously found. 

After a meeting between Sepa, the MoD and members of the local community in November, Sepa said it wanted a draft of the MoD’s plan to tackle the problem of cleaning up the site by the end of January 2012, with a final set of plans by the end of February. Neither have been done. 

On 2nd May, BBC’s Face the Facts programme revealed: 
  • how the MOD has cleaned up other sites deemed far less radioactive;
  • how it sold off contaminated land for development with radium undetected;
  • how a lack of records means it does not know where similar sites might be and
  • how a leaked  government report from the 1950s warned of the danger of radium dumps being forgotten or, in the case of privately-owned land, deliberately concealed.
Passing the buck?

A declassified report, now in the National Archives, which was obtained by Radio 4’s investigative programme Face the Facts shows that the MoD has long accepted its past activities are the most likely cause of the problem. However, it argues that radium particles may have escaped from where they were buried due to the actions of developers. 

BBC Scotland reports that UK defence minister Andrew Robathan said the MoD did not at present accept full liability for the problem: 

“For instance, there has been industrial sites. I understand there has been a ship-breaking yard just down the way. There’s been earth movement which of course has disturbed a great deal of stuff. There’s been housing estates built.” 

“Radioactive Contaminated Land

 A SEPA spokesman said that if the MoD did not offer a satisfactory solution, Sepa will continue with its progress to designate the land as contaminated by the end of March.