Highlands & Islands

Repairs to be made to ship carrying radioactive waste

MV Parida Image copyright Brian Ashman/BBC
Image caption The MV Parida has been towed to Invergordon

Repairs are to be carried out on a ship that lost power following a fire which broke out while it was transporting radioactive waste to Belgium.

The blaze started in one of the MV Parida's two funnels on Tuesday night.

It lost power and started drifting towards an oil platform in the Moray Firth. Fifty-two people on the rig were evacuated as a precaution.

The ship has been towed to the Port of Cromarty Firth at Invergordon. Police said there was no risk to the public.

The Parida, a vessel designed to handle heavy dangerous cargo, has two containers each holding three 500-litre drums of intermediate level waste.

The waste is the by-product of radioactive material from Belgium that was reprocessed at the Dounreay nuclear site near Thurso in Caithness in the 1990s.

It is being returned to Belgium because Dounreay is in the process of being closed down.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said the Parida and its cargo had been categorised at the lowest level of safety concern.

'Security measures'

Police Scotland said the vessel was tied up at a secure pier within the Port of Cromarty Firth.

A spokesman said: "This is to allow repair work to be completed.

"There are no public safety concerns with the vessel or its cargo. The integrity of the vessel and the cargo has not been affected by the maritime incident.

"The vessel will remain alongside the pier with appropriate security measures until the repair work is completed."

He added: "Once a final inspection has taken place, a decision will be made on when the vessel can resume its journey."

Dounreay Site Restoration Limited has confirmed that other radioactive material could be moved by ship to Sellafield in Cumbria for reprocessing, or storage.

A trial run of the proposed shipments was completed last week.

Tuesday's incident has led to renewed calls from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Highland Council for an emergency tug boat to cover the west coast and the Western Isles.

Emergency tug cover for the area was removed in 2012.

For 10 years, two tugs were hired by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to provide aid to stricken vessels around Scotland.

The UK government moved to end the contracts in late 2011 before agreeing to short extensions until March 2012.

In June 2012, it was announced funding for one tug to work "around Scotland's coast as required" would be provided until 2015.

Later, in February last year, a deal was brokered between the UK government and BP to use one of the oil company's vessels to provide emergency tug cover in the Northern Isles.

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