Victims accuse Dounreay chiefs of betrayal

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The Independent Online
JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

Highlanders living near Dounreay, some of whom contracted leukaemia shortly after the explosion in the nuclear waste storage shaft in 1977, yesterday accused managers at the plant of negligence and betrayal.

Mandy McVean, 26, from Thurso, who underwent years of radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment after contracting the blood-borne cancer when she was 13, said: "I blame Dounreay for my illness.

"It does not surprise me in the least that this new report pinpoints the waste shaft as the likely source of the radiation hot-spots in the area. The decision to dump waste there - right next to the water - was far too risky.

"I am glad the report recommends that the contents of the shaft be emptied, because it should mean that future generations will not have to go through what I have suffered."

Sharon Coghill, 24, from Murkle, 12 miles from the plant, who was diagnosed as having acute myeloid leukaemia in 1980, accused atomic-energy officials of betrayal. "It is no coincidence that the emergence of the leukaemia cluster in the area came hard on the heels of the 1977 explosion, which blasted radioactivity round the coast," she said.

"With these recent revelations, people in Caithness now feel they have been misled and betrayed by the Atomic Energy Authority. They are bitter."

The two women hope to use the contents of the latest report to bolster their legal action again Dounreay managers and the Atomic Energy Authority. They are seeking compensation of more than pounds 100,000.

Anti-nuclear protesters in the Highlands, whose attempts to highlight concerns surrounding the waste shaft have in the past been dismissed by the AEA, welcomed the report's findings.

Chris Bunyan, of the Northern European Nuclear Information Group, said: "This is the second report in a row to suggest that radioactive waste is still seeping from the shaft.

"The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. An unknown mixture of some of the most toxic chemicals known to man is contaminating a public beach."

Lorraine Mann, head of the Scotland Against Nuclear Dumping environmental pressure group, called for a halt to all decommissioning work at Dounreay "until we know for sure what is happening there and steps have been taken to remove this poisonous legacy".

She went on: "The waste was dumped into this hole in the ground in an unplanned, unrecorded, haphazard - yet entirely legal - manner.

"The mixture will be an awful mess after the explosion and it is frightening to think of the risks involved in moving this deadly cocktail. But this is nothing to the risks involved in leaving the waste where it is."

Last night Dounreay gave a very different interpretation of yesterday's report. A spokesman said it suggests that the establishment, with its air and sea radioactive discharges, is most unlikely to explain the admitted excess of childhood leukaemia in the area, or affect people's health there in the future.

He said that "to provide reassurance" the programme of monitoring beaches had been extended to cover a wider area, while warning notices were posted near where most radiation hot-spots have been found.

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