Oh I do like to be beside the (radioactive) seaside...

To the fury of locals, a buried cache of radioactive WWII munitions could see Dalgety Bay in Fife become Britain's first nuclear no-go zone. Jonathan Brown visits the scene of an explosive row

When Winston Churchill visited Dalgety Bay in October 1940 he paid tribute to the hard work and sacrifice of the men and women engaged in the war effort there.

Over the next five years 40 squadrons were trained or re-equipped at the Royal Naval air base in Fife while 7,000 aircraft were refuelled and repaired.

Until last month that wartime record had been a matter of quiet pride to the suburban community that has sprung up in the peacetime decades on the Firth of Forth.

But two significant finds of radium-226 – left behind by the hasty disposal of aircraft parts on the foreshore following the decommissioning of the base in 1959 – has pitched local people into an increasingly acrimonious battle with the Ministry of Defence.

Now the affluent Edinburgh commuter town which boasts Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, as its MP, is facing up to the fact it could become the first place in the United Kingdom to be designated radioactive contaminated land.

Strolling along a small patch of beach closed off to the public because of the potential health risk, Colin McPhail, a retired civil engineer, points out areas of ash uncovered by a storm last winter.

"Over the years since it was discovered there has been concern but everyone has lived with it. But we have to sort this out now. We don't want this to be a legacy for the next generation to deal with," he says.

The first radium particles were found in 1990 by scientists monitoring the nearby nuclear submarine base at Rosyth. No link was established with the base, but instead with the off-shore dumping ground where the incinerated remnants of up to 166 aircraft including American Wildcat fighters and the legendary Seafires were interred.

Paint that was used to make the planes' instruments glow in the dark was immediately suspected and for the past 21 years the situation has been monitored, with an average of 100 tiny particles a year being discovered on the beach at the end of Mr McPhail's road.

But this week the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) said that 468 particles had been discovered since September.

Two of the discoveries – including a large lump of metal – were 10 times more radioactive than anything previously found.

One has been removed while another remains in place on the beach – an area which is home to an internationally successful sailing school and popular with hikers completing the Fife coastal path.

Now local people are starting to worry about what exactly the effects of radium-226, which has a half life of 1,600 years, might be.

Mr McPhail, who is leading negotiations with the MoD on behalf of the community, produced an email from a local woman who said she had lived in Dalgety Bay since childhood, played on the beach, and until recently walked her dog there.

She said: "This year I was treated for breast cancer, and two other mothers from my son's primary class are now being treated for breast cancer too. Also I'm aware of six other people having cancer and they all walked along the beach with their dogs. I have concerns in respect for my children and others if this radiation is causing it."

According to the Health Protection Agency the particles have not led to an increase in detectible background radiation. A study covering the period 1975-2002 showed cancer rates among the local population were normal, although NHS Fife is seeking to update the study.

Until now those using the beach had been advised to wash their hands after going there.

Mr McPhail believes the cost of the clear-up could be £2m.

Helen Eadie, the local MSP and resident of Dalgety Bay, said there had been a change in the Ministry of Defence's attitude since the budget cuts. "Understandably the community is anxious. There is a real sense of anger that the Ministry of Defence is the partner here that is doing the least to address the concerns of the community," she said.

"If it is designated it will be the only land in the UK with that designation, and once that decision has been made there is no stepping back no matter how much remediation is done," she said. Ms Eadie now wants testing of local homes which had previously been given the all clear.

An MoD spokesman said: "The MoD is considering how best to assist Sepa with the recovery and removal of the source of significant radioactivity and is awaiting further information from Sepa."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

CRM Data Analyst – Part time – Permanent – Surrey – Circa £28,000 pro rata

£15000 - £16800 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Mechanical Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A key client in the East Midlands are re...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobWe are looking ...

Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The Job...Due to continued ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice