It’s shocking news that the Dalgety Bay coastline in Fife might become the first area in the UK to be declared “Radioactive Contaminated Land”. But sadly, for most of the local residents, it’s neither shocking nor news. In fact, it’s the culmination of decades of denial, mismanagement and a dangerous disregard from the Ministry of Defence.
After the Second World War, the area was used as a dumping ground for military aircraft which had dials coated in luminous radioactive radium so they could be seen at night. Most of the planes were incinerated and used as landfill in the reclamation of Dalgety Bay foreshore.
Concerns were first raised in 1990 when a team from the nearby Rosyth naval dockyard discovered radioactive material on the bay. This led to regular monitoring and reports from the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) during the following decade. This was followed by a series of removals of radioactive material from the area by the MoD over the next 20 years.
In 2010, amid a local outcry, the MoD decided to hand responsibility for the monitoring and clean-up to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). This was in spite of 20 years of consistent findings of serious radioactive contamination in the area. In the past year even more seriously harmful particles – which could cause radiation burns on skin – have been discovered. But the MoD is still reluctant to accept responsibility for a problem it created.
The local constituency MP, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has demanded that the MoD “recognise their responsibility… and take action.” This is of course to be applauded. But as a local MP since 1983, it does raise questions about the extent of Gordon Brown’s prior knowledge of this issue while he was in government – and his lack of action at the time. Given the public record on this issue for over 20 years, his statement that this is “something that’s only been discovered in the last few weeks” is either disingenuous or worryingly ill-informed.
As pressure is mounting on the MoD to take action at Dalgety Bay, this once again highlights the MoD’s selective accountability when it comes to civilian populations and radioactivity. In the past the MoD has sought to distance itself from debates over increases in birth defectsfollowing the alleged use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons by coalition troops in Iraq. But now we can see this same cynical manoeuvring over the impact of military radioactive materials on members of the public much closer to home.