A CAMPAIGN group has claimed that radioactive waste has been transported “in secret” from the port of Scrabster, near Thurso, to Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

Highlands Against Nuclear Transport (Hant) said the operation was carried out before the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) had given any information that could be open to public scrutiny, or before the UK Government had given a commitment about stationing an emergency towing vessel (ETV) at Stornoway to cover the west coast.

Concern mounted after their counterparts in Cumbria said a 29-year-old nuclear fuel carrier MV Oceanic Pintail arrived in Barrow-in-Furness on March 14 with a cargo of “exotic fuels” – radioactive waste that originated in Dounreay. Yesterday the vessel was still moored near Barrow.

Hant chairman Tor Justad told The National: “Once again a secret and dangerous transport of highly radioactive cargoes is being carried out without any public consultation or scrutiny.”

A spokeswoman for the NDA said there was an “ongoing programme to defuel Dounreay” that started in 2001 and would continue until the 2020s.

“With regard to the latest transports, the NDA published its proposals in a series of option papers dating from 2012 and carried out extensive engagement with local stakeholders,” she said.

“Our priority at all times is to maintain the security of the fuel and ensure the public and our personnel are protected from harm. For those reasons, we are unable to provide information that could compromise our ongoing programme to defuel the site.”

However, Justad said there had been no consultation: “The only consultation they carried out was to contact the four local authorities for confidential meetings held with senior officials and in some cases one or two councillors, where they basically informed them what they were planning to do.

“They can’t possibly call it a consultation. There was no public engagement, there were no public meetings to explain what they were planning to do.

“We have been continuously campaigning for greater openness and for the plans to be explained at a local level along the land and sea routes.”

He added that such shipments posed unacceptable risks to the environment, fishing and other industries at a time when only one ETV was operating in Scotland.

The NDA said the contract for the Orkney ETV had been extended for six months, when Transport Minister Robert Goodwill told the Commons: “I have instructed the MCA to make immediate arrangements to extend the provision of a Government-funded emergency towing vessel to mirror the current arrangement until September 30 this year.”

However, Ross, Skye and Lochaber SNP MP Ian Blackford was among those who had called for a two-boat solution.

“We cannot accept that our communities should be left at risk,” he said. “I am grateful that the Orkney vessel is being kept on for the next six months, but please let us make sure we get a solution that protects all our communities.

“That means the re-establishment of a two-vessel solution for the north and the west of Scotland.”

Justad added: “The Orkney tug is of little use if there’s any accident on the west coast because it simply wouldn’t get there in time to do anything about a breakdown or an accident.

“That was proved in October 2014 when the MV Parida was on its way from Scrabster to Antwerp with a load of nuclear waste and broke down in the Pentland Firth.

“The authorities had to call on a private tug to tow the vessel into Invergordon, so the extension of the existing contract is of no benefit to transport being used between Scrabster and Barrow.”