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Beaufort's Dyke

Volume 297: debated on Tuesday 8 July 1997

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland (1) if he will institute an independent inquiry into the extent of radioactive dumping in Beaufort's Dyke and the current condition of radioactive waste material; [6616](2) what conditions and restrictions were set on the dumping of radioactive waste in Beaufort's Dyke; [6615](3) what assessment his Department has made of the condition of metal drums containing radioactive waste dumped in Beaufort's Dyke. [6613](4)which organisations have been given approval to dump radioactive waste in Beaufort's Dyke. [6614](5) if he will investigate the accuracy of statements made by Scottish Office ministers since 1984 relating to the dumping of radioactive waste in Beaufort's Dyke. [6612]

As indicated by my hon. Friend, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—1 July, Official Report, columns 158–160—the discovery that radioactive waste had been dumped within the Beaufort's Dyke explosives disposal site followed a discovery of old papers in the Public Records Office. The lack of awareness of these papers and their contents led to previous Governments inadvertently giving inaccurate assurances.The papers located thus far reveal that radioactive waste was disposed of at Beaufort's Dyke during the 1950s on behalf of Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities. Babcock and Wilcox Ltd., Ferranti Ltd. and Luminisers Ltd. The accepted practice for dealing with the waste, which was regarded at the time as being non-hazardous, was to encase it in concrete in mild steel drums. If necessary the drums were also weighted with scrap metal to ensure rapid sinking at the disposal location. We cannot be sure of the current condition of the steel drums since it would be extremely difficult to locate them given the large quantities of debris that are present on the seabed. However, the amounts of radioactivity that they contain are so small that release of the contents would be of no significance in terms of either public health or the marine environment. I therefore see no merit in initiating an independent enquiry.Of importance is the fact that regular monitoring of the area has been carried out since the early 1960s: the most recent report entitled "Radioactivity in Food and the Environment 1995" is available in the Library of the House of Commons. This monitoring has not detected any measurable effect on radioactivity levels in the Beaufort's Dyke area, which remain well within internationally agreed safety levels.My Department and others that were involved in the consultation and consenting procedures that were followed some 40 or so years ago, are currently carrying out an exhaustive check of records and archive material. Any relevant information which emerges will be made available to the House and the public at the earliest opportunity.