Deidre Brock: Weapons dumps around our coasts

Posted by in November's Magazine

MP for Edinburgh North and Leith

Take a few tons of phosphorous, a few more tons of mustard gas, add in radioactive waste for variety and as much unwanted high explosive munitions as you can find, add some stuff you’re not sure about, load it onto ships and dump it in the sea.

That’s what the UK Government did for the best part of a century. Thousands of tons of explosives, chemical weapons, biological weapons and nuclear waste all dumped into the seas around our coasts. Most famously over at Beaufort’s Dyke between Scotland and Northern Ireland which was the largest of them but also in other areas.



In the sea just off Aberdeen, helpfully referred to by the MoD as East of Aberdeen to narrow it down, there’s a fairly large one. They’re dotted around our coastline and we know nothing about them.

I asked the MoD what they know about what’s dumped there. I was told that the records made at the time weren’t very good and what records they had were lost, damaged, destroyed or transferred to the archives. The dumped munitions did, however, include those seized from defeated enemies after the two world wars and we’re not very sure what was in the boxes.

Faroes stamp depicting munitions dumping in the North Atlantic

We do know about the chemical and biological weapons, and about the radioactive waste because MPs have asked questions in the past and their words – and the answers – are in parliamentary records such as Hansard, but there are no details. Nobody knows what has been dumped in our seas by UK Governments over decades.

This isn’t flinging the odd tea chest overboard either, sometimes ships were loaded full of the stuff sailed out to the dumping site and sunk. To some extent it’s understandable that there was a need to dispose of excess munitions immediately after the world wars but the dumping continued right up to the 1970s. There’s no excuse for not keeping records of what they were flinging in the water, either – that’s unforgivable.

It happened near here – there’s a marine munitions dump in the Firth of Forth at the Isle of May, for instance, and our food chains could be contaminated with the residues of these offloads.

Defence contractors were at it, too. Ferranti was dumping radioactive waste under the Forth Bridge for years – with the nod from the Scottish Secretary of the time – and UK Time dumped uranium-coated dials in drums into the Tay. None of it properly recorded.

I asked how the MoD monitored the sites and I was told they didn’t. I asked how it monitors the environmental impact of its operations across the country and I was told that “The Defence Infrastructure Organisation and its Industry Partner undertake routine internal audits of its Environmental Management Systems delivered across the UK Training Estate” but they won’t tell us what they found. They won’t tell me what environmental damage has been done in the Pentlands or at Cape Wrath, no recording of the damage done by the shelling or what kind of shells have been used.

I’ll be asking them about that “industry partner” too – why does the UK defence ministry have an “industry partner” on its training estate?  What does it do?

Defence contractors were at it, too. Ferranti was dumping radioactive waste under the Forth Bridge for years – with the nod from the Scottish Secretary of the time

I got them to admit to nearly 800 nuclear safety incidents at Faslane and Coulport in recent years as well as spillages that a civilian would have had to report to SEPA. Four out of the six Oil Fuel Depots that the UK has are in Scotland – including refuelling points for NATO ships.

For far too long now Scotland has been used as a dumping ground by the MoD and as a testing ground for its weaponry without any consideration being given to the damage that it does to our environment.

They don’t know what’s in our seas and rivers or what’s happening to it. They know what damage they’re doing on land but they won’t tell us about it. It’s time that changed.

In Belgium and In Norway there is concern about the marine dumps and they’re monitored. That’s how they know they are leaking.

The International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions says that dumped munitions are point source emitters of pollution and should be cleaned up.  Action is being taken elsewhere to start cleaning up the messes left behind by the dumping of chemical, biological and conventional weapons and the radioactive waste is getting special attention. Scotland should not be left behind.

It’s time our seas and our land got the respect they deserve from the MoD. It’s time for a full environmental audit of all of its activities – past and present – and it is time the UK Government started clearing it up.

No more weapons dumping in Scotland’s seas, no more environmental damage on Scotland’s land. 

I have a message for the UK Government – clean up your mess and do it now.

Twitter: @DeidreBrock

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