Radioactive waste was dumped in Irish Sea

 

THE British government will admit today that radioactive waste was secretly disposed of down a 300 metres deep munitions dump close to busy shipping lanes in the Irish Sea contrary to statements made by British ministers for the last 13 years.

Official papers to be released will reveal that the Scottish Office authorised the dumping of low level waste from private companies, including defence contractors, Ferranti, during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Up to two tonnes of waste, in heavy metal drums encased in concrete, was dumped in Beaufort's Dyke a seven mile munitions dump, six miles from the Scottish coast, used by the Ministry of Defence since the 1920s. The full extent of the dumping has still to be fully investigated by the government.

British ministers are expected to emphasise today that they believe there is no danger to the public after the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) checked radiation levels in the area and found them to be below accepted safety levels. The waste comes from laboratories, luminous paint and clock dials.

The disclosure, however, means that statements to parliament made since 1984 are false as they are based on an independent report that all Britain's radioactive waste was disposed in the mid Atlantic.

The Guardian newspaper understands that ministers in the previous Conservative government may have been first alerted about the problem by a member of the public who reported information about radioactive waste being dumped by companies based in Edinburgh.

This came to light during the furore over the disclosure by former defence ministers, Mr Michael Portillo and Mr Nicholas Soames, of the scale of hidden defence dumps around Britain and facing persistent questioning from Labour front bench spokesmen, Mr David Clark and Mr George Foulkes, who are now both Ministers.

These disclosures revealed that the Defence Ministry had used the dump for over 50 years and that at least one million tonnes of bombs, rockets, shells, including 14,000 tonnes of rockets with phosgene poison gas warheads, were dumped there. The last dumping is said to have taken place in 1976.

The site is extremely sensitive since three ferry routes cross it and it is regularly used by fishing vessels and nuclear submarines. It is also close to the natural gas pipeline being built between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Reports of a number of underwater explosions led to both the Scottish Office Marine Laboratory in Torrey, Aberdeen and MAFF launching an investigation.

MAFF undertook a seabed underwater television survey in 1996 to look for leaks or other contamination. Details are also expected to be released of the findings of this inquiry.