Nuclear plant faces legal action over 100 'hot spots'

Further embarrassment for Dounreay as inspectors find harmful radioactivity levels
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The Independent Online
Managers at the Dounreay nuclear research establishment, who are under criminal investigation over allegations that they misled government inspectors about radioactive pollution in the Atlantic, are facing legal action following the discovery of more than 100 radioactive "hot spots" at the plant.

Government pollution control officials, who are conducting a survey of the Caithness research centre, have informed the Scottish prosecution service that they are gathering evidence of breaches of the 1993 Radioactive Substances Act. A spokesman for the Industrial Pollution Inspectorate (IPI) said: "We are compiling a report and we will refer the papers to the procurator fiscal [local prosecutor] if we feel there is sufficient evidence to sustain a prosecution."

Inspectors have uncovered harmful radioactivity in more than 100 different areas of the plant in recent weeks. "Hot" metals have been found beside roadways, in hedgerows, on an office chair and inside industrial vehicles.

UK Atomic Energy Authority managers at the site say the metals date from the Sixties. They do not know how they were released and why they lay undetected for so long but insist there is no evidence that workers or local people have suffered any ill-effects. Large areas of the plant have been cordoned off as scientists attempt to clear up the contamination.

Alasdair MacDonald, the procurator fiscal in Wick, confirmed yesterday that he had had talks with IPI inspectors about possible breaches of anti- pollution legislation. "We had a discussion and they let me know they were in the course of an investigation into various matters that had come to light. The ball is in their court. It is up to them whether the matter is taken further."

The announcement is the latest in a series of severe embarrassments to Dounreay. Last month, the Government's Committee on the Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment and the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee issued a damning joint report on the pollution of beaches near Dounreay which accused managers of covering up evidence of a radioactive explosion at the site in 1977.

One week later, the Independent revealed that Highland River Purification Board had made a formal complaint to Mr MacDonald over discharges of nitric acid into Atlantic waters in the Pentland Firth, which breached the 1985 Control of Pollution Act. Board officials accuse managers of applying for a licence to make the discharges without telling them the effluent was toxic.

The latest moves have prompted environmental campaigners north of the border to call on the investigating authorities to bring full charges against UK AEA. Lorraine Mann, of the Scotland Against Nuclear Dumping group, said yesterday: "First we find out that managers covered up evidence of an explosion. Then we discover they did the same with the acid effluent. Now radioactive particles are turning up all over the site. Managers should face the full force of the law to account for this totally unacceptable situation."