Radioactive particles at Dounreay :LETTER

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From Mr Derek Pooley

Sir: I feel I must take issue with the recent spate of articles by your Science Editor and your Scotland Correspondent, reporting the recommendations of the Department of Health's Committee on the Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (Comare) and the Government's Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee (RWMAC) on Dounreay.

The various articles did not make clear the conclusion of Comare and RWMAC that the radioactive particles on the beach at Dounreay are not a hazard to the public who, in the words of the report, would have an "extremely small" chance of encountering one.

The articles report claims that there was some sort of cover-up in the past at Dounreay. This is not the case. We can find no evidence to suggest that those associated with the management of Dounreay in the Seventies and Eighties deliberately attempted to mislead or obscure the truth.

I do, however, accept that some practices used at Dounreay in the past - in particular, the disposal of waste in the Dounreay shaft - would not be regarded as acceptable today. They were seen as acceptable then; but, as in many industries, ways of operating have evolved and improved over time, and what was once regarded as appropriate rightly gives way to new standards and techniques. That is why John Baxter, who was appointed as director of Dounreay last year, has launched a series of environmental investigations at the site.

Indeed, to quote from the report itself:

RWMAC has been impressed by the rigorous manner in which the investigations into both the source of the particles and the wider contamination are now being pursued.

I think is a pity that the tone of the articles suggested conflict rather than consensus between the UK Atomic Energy Authority and RWMAC/Comare. I would like to emphasise that we fully accept the RWMAC/Comare recommendations and are committed to working with our own and with external experts to eliminate the radioactive particles, and also to develop a plan for the intermediate level waste shaft at Dounreay that will, this time, be satisfactory in the long term.

Finally, may I point out it is quite untrue to state there is no visitor's centre at Dounreay. There is one, and we would be delighted to welcome your correspondents or anyone else to it at any time.

Yours faithfully,


Chief Executive


Government Division



16 June