FOLLOWING Monday’s piece “Greens hit back at claims over nuclear need”, I must take issue with Greg Hands, the UK’s energy minister. He said Ukraine had given Scotland a pretext to get behind nuclear power and its development, and stated that the UK “had a really strong safety regime.”

Scotland has been involved since the 1950s in nuclear development. Dounreay near Thurso, with its fast reactor from 1955-1994, was the British establishment for this. So let’s investigate some issues of safety.

In May 1997 a 213-foot-deep shaft which was storing radioactive waste and some sodium potassium exploded, smashing steel and concrete lids. The cause was sea water breaching the shaft.

During May 1998 a mechanical digger ripped through a major power cable, causing disruption to the site’s electrical supply for 16 hours and it triggering a safety audit by the UK Health and Safety executive and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). A damning report was published with 143 recommendations, which highlighted over-dependence on contractors, no comprehensive strategy for waste disposal, lack of decommissioning, poor physical condition of plant and failure to work to the standards required in a modern nuclear facility. All 89 short-term recommendations were carried out. The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority also shortened the decommissioning from 100 years to 60.

In 1998 there was 25 tonnes of radio active reactor fuel to dispose of at the site. This was in the main removed to Sellafield and completed in 2018/19, with Sellafield closing in 2021. There was also Britain’s worst nuclear disaster at Windscale in 1957, when 11 tons of Uranium was ablaze for three days, affecting cattle, sheep, hens and milk.

Britain has also been affected by overseas nuclear disasters. Chernobyl in April 1986, near the city of Pripyat in Northern Ukraine, has been called the greatest nuclear disaster of all, caused by human error and design failure. The fallout from this lasted years. The Independent in 1996 reported a large rise in cancers which had tripled in 18 months on Benbecula. Local doctors were demanding a investigation into the rise, and thought locally sourced seafood, mutton, venison and vegetables were contaminated or linked to Chernobyl. It also took till 2010 before 9,700 affected UK farmers could sell their livestock, and even at that the Food Standards Agency had to test the animals three days before sale.

The world then had to suffer the affects of the Fukushima nuclear accident 2011, caused by a earthquake and tsunami. It was not as bad as Chernobyl, but bad enough for those affected. In 2020 the government of Japan lifted bans on seafood from Fukushima, claiming they met safety standards that were more robust than in America for Cesium. It would now appear that radiation levels in the shores and waters of Fukushima have fallen over the years, but some reactors are still discharging.

Having tried to explain why we do not need the risks of these installations, one must ask why do we need them, when the future is now going to be wind and tidal and in Scotland hydro.

Scotland does not need nuclear power nor weapons of mass destruction. What we need are hospitals, education, care for the elderly, public transport, and construction. And we have enough oil and gas to last until we make the transition.

Robert McCaw

Featured Image: Danish Institute for International Studies