Santa's Grotto built with nuclear waste containers

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The Independent Online

A Santa's grotto used by hundreds of children in the run-up to Christmas was made of containers used to store nuclear waste, it has been revealed.

A Santa's grotto used by hundreds of children in the run-up to Christmas was made of containers used to store nuclear waste, it has been revealed.

The grotto, in Thurso, Caithness, was built by apprentices from the nearby Dounreay nuclear plant using four containers which had stored low-level waste.

Last night the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which runs the plant, defended the use of the containers and said they had been thoroughly decontaminated.

The containers, each of which weighs three-and-a-half tonnes, had been welded together and had doors and windows cut in them to make a grotto for youngsters in the town.

But before they left the plant they had been used to store low-level nuclear waste including overalls and paper towels used by workers in contact with radioactive materials.

Dounreay spokeswoman Lynne Straples-Scott said: "I can categorically state that those containers were safe.

"They were thoroughly clean and they would not have been allowed to leave the site if there have been any danger."

The grotto had been built for community group Thurso Beyond 2000. Tonight nobody from the group was available for comment.

Ms Straples-Scott said there had been no complaints from the group, which was aware of what the containers had been used for at the plant.

Around 1500 children are thought to have made a visit to the building, which had taken a month for a team of apprentices to complete.

Dounreay, which was built as a power station on Scotland's far northern coast, has suffered a series of safety lapses in recent years.

A series of radioactive particles have been found on beaches around the plant, which is due to close in 2004.

Its closure was ordered by then Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar after nuclear inspectors and environmental watchdogs condemned the plant's record and found 143 specific safety lapses at the site.

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