The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) has given the Ministry of Defence (MoD) until March next year to make sure there is no contamination at Dalgety Bay in Fife.
High radiation levels have been uncovered on the beach since last month, and the ultimatum comes after a fresh area of “high radioactivity” was found at the weekend.
The Government agency has called on the MoD to make the area safe as the contamination is believed to come from aircraft parts dumped there after the Second World War.
Last night, Dr Paul Dale, Sepa’s principal policy officer, said: “We believe the Ministry of Defence is responsible for the radioactive material present at Dalgety Bay, and as such Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) is the responsible party in terms of remediation.
“Sepa will continue to work constructively and co-operatively with DIO, but as the regulator Sepa has a specific role under the Radioactive Contaminated Land Regulations (RCL) to assess the fitness of the proposals of the responsible party for the protection of the environment and human health.
“Sepa will continue with the necessary preparations for designation of the area as RCL in the event it does not receive a credible long-term voluntary remediation plan from DIO.”
He added: “We expect to see a draft of the remediation plan by the end of January 2012 and to have the final version by the end of February. If this does not happen, Sepa intends to designate the area as RCL by the end of March 2012.”
The particles are understood to have come from the residue of radium-coated panels which were used on military aircraft. The area was the site of a Second World War airfield and many planes containing the radioactive components were dismantled there.
It was commonplace in the 1940s to coat dials and instruments with radioactive radium, which glows in the dark, so they could be read at night. It is thought the planes were incinerated with other waste, which was then tipped on the land and used to help reclaim some of the coastline.
Radioactive material was first discovered on the beach in 1990, and many surveys have taken place since. However, defence officials have predicted as many as 100 radioactive particles a year could be unearthed on the beach. In total, 468 particles have been found already.
Sepa’s latest demand came as former prime minister Gordon Brown, Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, said he had written to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to request a meeting on the issue.
He said: “People must have their fears allayed. This is a radioactive substance, it’s something that’s only been discovered in the past few weeks. Action has got to be taken immediately.”
Mr Brown urged the MoD to “recognise its responsibility” and remedy the situation.
He said: “I want the MoD to recognise its responsibility and to take action. It’s got to clear the surface, it’s got to continue to monitor this, then it has got to remedy what has been wrong.”
An MoD spokesman said “The MoD has demonstrated a serious commitment to dealing with the problem at Dalgety Bay and will continue to work with Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Scottish Executive and the Dalgety Bay Forum to identify the likelihood and scale of the residual risks and the requirement for remedial action.
“MoD has assisted Sepa in every way possible to date and we have reached an agreed way forward.”
Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “It is deeply disappointing this situation has arisen as a result of inaction from the MoD.
“I have urged the MoD on a number of occasions to take immediate action and come forward with credible plans to investigate the source of the contamination at Dalgety Bay. I would have expected the level of radioactivity to have impelled those responsible to do the right thing and clean up this mess.
“Despite not receiving a response from the MoD to my letter last month, I will write again to Mr Hammond seeking answers. I am keen to establish the precise nature of its commitment. The Scottish Government prefers a voluntary approach is taken by the MoD.”