THERE are reports this week that the Ministry of Defence wants to increase the amount of nuclear waste it dumps into the Firth of Clyde. The key word there is increase, as the MoD has been using Scotland as a dumping ground for its waste for a very long time, and continues to do so.

Right now, we only know the amount of waste and damage that the notoriously secretive British state is prepared to admit to. We can be certain that there’s a great deal more of it than they are so far not admitting to.

The new proposals will increase the amount of radioactive waste dumped into the waters of the Firth of Clyde by more than 50 times the level which the MoD currently owns up to. And this, let us remember, is not an organisation which is noted for its transparency. The extra waste is derived from the nuclear reactors powering the MoD’s new submarines, and will be discharged into the Gareloch via a new pipeline from the bases at Faslane and Coulport.

The National:

Discharges of the radioactive isotope cobalt-60 are due to rise from an average admitted level of 0.45 million becquerels annually to 23.4m becquerels annually. A becquerel is a measurement of radioactivity, but it’s important to remember that the crucial measurement for human and animal health is the absorbed dose.

Cobalt-60 is a high-intensity gamma ray emitter with a half-life of almost five years and six months. This is a long half-life compared to other gamma-ray sources, most of which decay far more quickly. Most cobalt-60 ingested by living creatures is excreted, but a small amount can end up in the bones and internal organs where it will emit gamma ray radiation which is known to be associated with an increased risk of cancer. As cobalt-60 has a long half-life, continued exposure can lead to the build-up of the substance within an organism’s tissues. Since the Firth of Clyde is an important source of shellfish, it’s easy to see how it could enter the human food chain.

The MoD also seeks to increase the amount of radioactive tritium which is dumped in the Clyde. Tritium occurs naturally, but is rare in nature. Most tritium is created as a common by-product of certain types of nuclear reactors.

Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen. Hydrogen normally consists of one proton, whereas tritium is a form of hydrogen whose nucleus contains one proton and two neutrons.

It is highly radioactive, as the nucleus of a tritium atom is extremely unstable. It can be a radiation hazard if it is inhaled or ingested. However, tritium which has been ingested tends not to build up within an organism. The MoD wants to increase the amount it dumps into the Clyde from the current annual maximum of 33,000 becquerels to 175,000 becquerels.

“Nuclear safety is our top priority,” said a spokesapologist for the MoD. By which they mean it plans to dump its radioactive waste somewhere remote and far away. Remote and far away from London, that is. The MoD does not have a good track record when it comes to protecting the Scottish environment. Why should it, when it’s allowed to operate secretively and cannot be held to account by those of us in Scotland who suffer the consequences of its lack of care and concern?

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There are numerous instances of the MoD treating Scotland as a dumping ground and in every single instance, Scotland has no means of forcing the British state to take responsibility for its dangerous mess.

It’s known that there are oil deposits in the Firth of Clyde, although the MoD blocked their development. Developing this resource would risk exposure of the true amount of waste, radioactive and otherwise, which the UK has dumped in Scotland’s waters.

Development by oil companies would disturb the dirty secrets that might lie beneath the waves, dirty secrets that the British state would rather we didn’t know about.

The proposal to build Boris Johnson’s fantasy bridge from Galloway to Northern Ireland founders upon the uncomfortable truth that for many decades the MoD used the waters between Scotland and Ireland as a dumping ground for unwanted munitions and nuclear waste.

It is estimated that there is more than a million-and-a-half tonnes of munitions lying in and around Beaufort’s Dyke, the deep-sea trench between the Rhins of Galloway and the Irish coast. As well as conventional munitions, the North Channel also hides substantial amounts of chemical weaponry and radioactive waste.

Even if the bridge was feasible, given the geographical constraints, dealing with the MoD’s dangerous waste would likely prove to be an insurmountable obstacle.

The National:

In 1990, it was discovered that there are unacceptable high levels of radioactivity on the beaches near Dalgety Bay in Fife (above). The radioactive particles discovered there come from radium from discarded aircraft instrument panels.

The MoD incinerated the aircraft after the Second World War and dumped them in landfill. Years of exposure to the elements have caused radioactive particles to leak out and contaminate the local beach. For many years, the MoD refused to accept responsibility.

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In 2014, a report from the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (Comare) which examined the health impacts of the contamination was blocked by the MoD for many months.

When finally released, the report said that the contamination represented a potential risk to public health and condemned the MoD’s refusal to release a full list of other sites which might be contaminated.

The MoD would only admit to 15 sites across the UK where similar contamination might exist, several of which are in Scotland.

These include the old RAF Machrihanish base; the former aircraft repair depot at the Defence Aviation Repair Agency at Almondbank in Perth and Kinross; the Royal Marines base RM Condor near Arbroath; RAF Kinloss; and Forthside in Stirling.

Remediation work in Dalgety Bay is finally due to begin in April, and won’t be completed until the end of 2021, more than 30 years after the contamination first came to light.

We still don’t know the true number of other potentially contaminated sites or the extent of the possible contamination. The MoD won’t tell us.

It’s only after independence that will we discover the true extent to which the Scottish environment has been trashed by the UK’s military fetishism, and it’s a safe bet that when it comes to light the people of Scotland will be angered and outraged.

Scotland isn’t so much an equal partner in a union as a toilet for nuclear waste and unwanted munitions.