Salmond demands nuclear submarine fault apology from Cameron

Image caption The Vulcan submarine reactor test site on the Caithness coast

Scotland's first minister has demanded an apology from Number 10 for not being told about a radiation problem at a nuclear test reactor in the Highlands.

Alex Salmond said the UK government had "disrespected" Holyrood and the people of Scotland.

The MoD has revealed that radioactive discharge was discovered in the faulty Vulcan reactor in January 2012.

Mr Salmond has asked David Cameron for "an immediate explanation" for the delay in informing Scottish ministers.

Vulcan is next to the civil nuclear power site, Dounreay.

'Low levels'

UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond revealed on Thursday that Britain's oldest nuclear-armed submarine, HMS Vanguard, is to have its reactor refuelled at a cost of £120m after the test reactor was found to be faulty.

He told the Commons the work was being carried out after "low levels of radioactivity were detected in a prototype core" at the Naval Reactor Test Establishment at Dounreay, in Caithness, in 2012.

Mr Hammond said the test reactor had been shut down after the fault was detected and both the independent Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) had been informed.

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead was notified of the situation shortly before Mr Hammond's statement, the Scottish government said.

It also said Sepa had been instructed by the MoD not to make the information more widely available but the MoD disputes this.

In a letter to the prime minister expressing his "deep dismay", Mr Salmond accused Westminster of ignoring its responsibility for good communication under the Memorandum of Understanding on Devolution (MOU).

He said: "I recognise that, in reserved areas, your government must decide what it chooses to share with us, but on areas devolved to the Scottish Parliament, you have an unarguable responsibility to share information with us.

Image copyright PA
Image caption HMS Vanguard is to be refuelled with a new nuclear reactor as a result of the Dounreay radiation discovery

"Clearly, by informing Sepa (although even that took until late summer 2012), the MoD recognised that the incidents impacted on environmental matters, yet specifically requested that the issue be kept on a strict need to know basis for security reasons.

"By ignoring the MOU in this way, your government has completely disrespected the Scottish Parliament - and the people of Scotland - as well as the democratic processes of the whole United Kingdom."

Mr Salmond said the "lack of concern" shown by the UK government on the issue was "as underhand as it is disrespectful".

He added: "As a government, we cannot tolerate this veil of Westminster secrecy being pulled over Scottish democracy and you must now offer an immediate explanation of why your government allowed this to happen, an apology for the disregard of established processes and a commitment that it will never happen again."

A MoD spokesman said Sepa was not ordered to withhold information from the Scottish government.

He added: "Having been told about the situation, Sepa themselves chose not to inform ministers based on their expert view that the local community and environment is not at risk.

"As we have consistently made clear, the announcement was about the decision to re-fuel HMS Vanguard, not the issue at Dounreay; where regulators judged the reactor continues to operate safely."

On Saturday, Labour shadow ministers wrote to the defence select committee calling for a parliamentary inquiry.

Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran told the BBC: "Why has it taken so long for the public to get this information, what did the MoD know, when they knew it and why did they not pass it on?

"What did Sepa know, when did they know it and why did they not pass it on? There's an issue about how the MoD have behaved but there's also an issue here in Scotland about the Scottish government's, Alex Salmond's, own agency seemed to know information and did not pass that on."

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