Concerns raised about radioactive material

Cllr Angus Campbell, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has stated he is “extremely concerned” about plans to ship cargoes of radioactive nuclear material through The Minch off the Western Isles.

The radioactive material is a by-product of the Dounreay nuclear site which has been decommissioned. Most of the material will remain at the site but some, including what is called exotic fuel, will require to be transported elsewhere.

In a letter to Stephen Henwood CBE, the Chairman of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Cllr Campbell said: “I am particularly concerned at the lack of consultation there has been on this matter with either the public, or with those who may have to deal with the consequences of any accident occurring, including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.”

He continued: “I am seeking assurances that if this trial is considered successful, then any moves to make this a permanent arrangement will be subject to a full and meaningful consultation. I am also seeking assurances on the safety measures that will be in place for transporting these hazardous cargoes.”

The council Leader said the shores of the Western Isles have been put at greater risk in recent years with the removal of the Emergency Vessel that was previously on standby for incidents in The Minch involving shipping.

“There is now only one tug for northern waters and it could take a considerable amount of time for this vessel to reach an incident occurring off the shores of the Western Isles,” he said, adding: “Shipping nuclear waste through The Minch significantly increases the risk factor for those who use our waters, those whose businesses depend on those waters and the marine and coastal environment.”

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which is a public body of the UK Government but also accountable to Scottish Ministers, makes decisions about what radioactive material from the Dounreay site should be removed and how it is transported.

The form of transport depends on the type of material being moved - with the standards for nuclear transport set by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. It is usually moved by sea, road or rail.

A spokesperson for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said: “No decision has yet been taken on the mode of transport for removal of Dounreay Exotic Fuel (not waste) to Sellafield.

“The Dounreay Stakeholder Group were informed in March 2014 that a trial would be carried out to determine if the movement of materials from Dounreay to Sellafield is a viable option.

“The transportation of nuclear materials is a practice that has been in place for a number of decades, without any major incidents, and is a tried and tested method subject to stringent regulations and can only take place if compliant with these regulations.”

She continued: “Since publishing its first Strategy in 2006 the NDA has been looking at the best ways to safely manage exotic fuels and undertook a period of formal engagement which led to the NDA publishing a Preferred Options paper in February 2013. Further engagement has taken place and is planned with key stakeholders.”