Dounreay, Scotland

Fishing Rights

Geoffrey Minter, the laird of the neighboring Sandside estate, is facing bankruptcy after the radioactive contamination from Dounreay closed his beach and rendered his salmon-fishing rights worthless. Minter ran out of funds after the government took years to set up a panel to evaluate his claims, and the panel then only awarded him a fraction of the damages he was seeking (the exact amounts don’t seem to be public knowledge).

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has ruled that the radioactive shavings will be a hazard for 300 years; however the panel only estimated that time as 30 years. They also attached no monetary value to the loss of the fishing rights.

“Since I have been handling… [the administration of the estate] there have been two expressions of interest in the salmon fishing rights,” said James Stephen, the bankruptcy administrator for Minter[11]

In the months following the panel’s decision, the Sandside estate has been put up for sale. The beach is not included.[12]

Other problems

The vertical shaft was not the only dumping site at the Dounreay facility. As early as 1971, the staff realized that there were problems with the shaft and built an alternative facility.

Historical records show there was a significant risk of contamination spread at the top of the shaft as a result of the procedures used to dispose of waste. The area was contaminated frequently.[13]

In fact, the routine procedural contamination problems at the shaft dwarfed those from the explosion:

In 1995, research on the health physics implications of the … [1977 explosion] concluded that the significant ground contamination, which then remained in the vicinity of the shaft, resulted from the methods of waste disposal used in the 1960s.[14]

The wet silo – an engineered, concrete-lined bunker – was brought into use as an ILW store in 1971 to allow the shaft to be taken out of routine service. After 1971, the shaft was only used for items that were too large for the silo.[15]

Nor are these dumping sites the only reservoirs of dangerous waste on the Dounreay campus.

[The UKAEA] stationed [the facility] … in remote Caithness – because they feared their first test reactor might explode. They even encased it in a giant sphere of steel, known as Fred the Golf Ball – Fred standing for Fast Reactor Experiment in Dounreay – to contain any blast.

This 60-metre metal ball still dominates the site and might even be retained as a key landmark or possibly a visitor centre, according to Scottish Heritage. ‘Unfortunately, the sphere still contains about 50 tonnes of highly radioactive liquid metal coolant,’ said Simon Middlemas, Dounreay’s site director. ‘That will take an awful lot of cleaning before people can walk inside.’[16]

For reference, the official Dounreay documents analyzing the 1977 shaft explosion estimated that it resulted from the amount of hydrogen released by 2.5 kg (five and a half pounds) of liquid metal coolant reacting with water.[17]


[11] “Scots laird facing ruin after Dounreay nuclear blast”, David Maddox, The Scotsman, April 8, 2012.

[12] “Estate in Dounreay legal wrangle goes on the market”, Alan Shields, John O’Groat Journal and Caithness Courier, June 29 2012.

[13] “Disposals to shaft” , Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd.

[14] “1977 shaft explosion”, Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd.

[15] “Disposals to shaft” , Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd.

[16] “Robots scour sea for atomic waste,” The Observer, May 24, 2008.

[17] “Dounreay chiefs played down major blast at plant”, The Scotsman, July 13, 2005.

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