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MoD loses battle to block nuclear waste contamination report via The Guardian

Report warning contamination of military sites could pose public health risk to be published next week after six-month delay

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been forced to abandon attempts to block a report by government advisers warning that radioactive contamination of military sites across the UK could pose a risk to public health.

The report was submitted for publication last October by the 18-member Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (Comare). To the frustration of its authors and the Scottish government, UK ministers have sat on it for the last six months following objections from the MoD.

But after the 75-page report was leaked to the Guardian, a decision was taken in Whitehall on Tuesday to publish it early next week. It will reveal that Comare is concerned about radium contamination from the second world war at Dalgety Bay in Fife and at least 25 other sites across the UK.


According to the report, past disposal of radium – used to paint aircraft dials so that they could be read in the dark – was “very widespread”. It criticises the MoD for only providing a limited list of sites where this could have happened. Though the only site named in the report is Dalgety Bay, 15 have been previously listed by the MoD.

They include the old SAS headquarters at Stirling Lines in Hereford, a former naval air base near Portsmouth and a previous home to the Red Arrows in Gloucestershire. There are also potentially contaminated sites in Hampshire, Bedfordshire, Nottingham, Shropshire, Cumbria, Stirling, Perth and Kinross, Angus, Moray and the Mull of Kintyre.


Since 1990, 3,532 fragments of radioactivity debris from incinerated old planes have been detected and removed from Dalgety Bay, 1,369 of them in 2012. The foreshore, a popular place for walkers, families and sailors, is cordoned off, fishing is banned and signs warn visitors of the dangers.

But Comare concludes that these measures may fail to meet the government’s safety policy requiring radiation exposure to the public to be kept “as low as reasonably achievable”. The current situation is “not regarded as best practice”, its report says.

It also warns that the radioactive contamination, which comes from contaminated landfill used to extend the coastline in the 1950s, could get worse. There is an estimated 3,000 cubic metres of coastal land that is “a reservoir of contamination that is vulnerable in the long run to erosion by marine action” and could spread the pollution over a wider area, the report says.

MoD officials failed to attend Comare meetings, at which they have observer status, for 15 months when the report was being discussed. But on 12 November last year, three officials attended and “raised concerns with some sections of the report”, according to the meeting’s minutes.

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