Grounding of N. Sea oil rig in Western Isles sparks call to halt shipments of Dounreay nuclear waste through the Minches

The Transocean Winner, grounded on the Western Isles Photograph; Coastguard Agency
More than 90,000 gallons of oil spewed into the from The Transocean Winner after it grounded on the Western Isles Photograph; Coastguard Agency

EXCLUSIVE by Scottish Energy News

The national association of British local authorities which campaigns against both civil and military uses of nuclear power has demanded that the British government pay for an emergency tug to cover the Western Isles after the area narrowly escaped an environmental disaster when a N. Sea oil platform ran aground on the Isle of Lewis last month.

There is no locally-based, dedicated emergency towing vessel to cover the Western Isles and when the 17,000 tonne Transocean Winner oil rig ran aground on Lewis it took 18 hours for the nearest tug to be scrambled to the islands – far too late to stop the rig running aground despite having been despatched more than nine hours before the rig towlines broke free.

As reported  48 hour ago in Scottish Energy News – the British Government had asked BP five years ago to pay for an emergency tug for the Western Isles. BP refused the government’s request, saying it had no operations in the area and did not use the Minch / Western Isles sea lanes.

But the association of Nuclear-Free Local Authorities – whose members include more than 50 councils in Scotland, England and Wales – is most concerned about public safety should a vessel carrying deadly radioactive waste from Dounreay – shipped from Scrabster to Barrow in Furness via the Western Isles sea route – similarly run aground.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities and KIMO International (an international local authority organisation working to protect and enhance the marine environment) are ‘astounded’ that the UK Government attempted to encourage the oil company BP to pay for a second Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) in Scotland, rather than pay for its maintenance itself – a service it has duly cut. 

And they want David Mundell, the British Government Minister for Scotland, to cough up to pay for an emergency tug to be based in Stornoway to cover the Minches – one of the most treacherous sea channels in the UK – and the Western Isles.

NFLA and KIMO remain highly concerned of the problems that could occur if such shipments of nuclear waste got into trouble through the Minch shipping channel without a local emergency towing vessel being available. 

NFLA and KIMO Chairs have also written to Mundell seeking answers as to why he asked BP to fund a second ETV. It is essential a second ETV is resumed, but it should be paid for by the UK Government and be reinstated forthwith. 

KIMO Senior Vice President and NFLA Steering Committee Vice-Chairman Councillor Norman McDonald said: “I am alarmed to hear that, despite consistent calls from KIMO and the NFLA for the restoration of a second ETV to cover the Western Isles and west coast of Scotland, the Government should have been going cap in hand to BP five years ago to maintain this service.

“The Transocean Winner incident showed the urgent public and environmental safety case for a second ETV.

“The financial cost of a second emergency tug would be much less than dealing with an oil spill or radioactive material spill from an accident in the Minch shipping channel.

“Instead of asking BP for help the Government should as a matter of urgency restore funding for a second ETV and bring back the service forthwith.  

“I am very concerned with the grounding of the Transocean Winner off Dalmore, which is a pristine marine environment. The damage this potentially preventable accident could cause is of great concern here in the Western Isles of Scotland.

“It is clear evidence of the real need to restore the Emergency Towing Vessel to Stornoway and of the ongoing risk around transporting hazardous materials through such treacherous waters. I believe the transporting of Dounreay nuclear waste to Sellafield through this channel should be halted now as a matter of some urgency.”

Cllr Bill Butler (Labour, Glasgow Pollok)
Cllr Bill Butler (Labour, Glasgow Pollok)

Glasgow Councillor Bill Butler, who is also Convenor of NFLA Scotland, added: “I am astounded to read <Scottish Energy News, 24 Oct 2016 **> that essential marine public safety in Scotland is determined more by the ability of BP to pay for a service they would never use than by the actual critical necessity of an ETV being required for the west of Scotland.

“David Mundell has a lot to answer for with this issue. As Scotland’s representative in the UK Government it is his responsibility to ensure marine safety is secure. I urge Mundell to restore the second ETV immediately.

“I dread to think what the consequences would be of a major accident of a Sellafield-bound radio-active waste tanker or of a decommissioned oil rig. The Government must act now and restore this critical service.

“What if the grounding had actually been of the ship transporting nuclear waste from Dounreay to Sellafield? If it had taken 19 hours for an emergency tow vessel to get to the scene then the environmental impact would be of real concern.

“We have been urging the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to end such shipments for some time, as we believe they are unnecessary with the waste rather remaining in Dounreay in safe storage.

“I make that demand again, and I hope the NDA and the UK Government now take account and listen to us following this incident.”

In addition to Glasgow, other Scottish cooncils which are members of Nuclear Free Local Authorities include Edinburgh, Western Isles, Shetland Isles, Dundee, Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire.

** See also: UK Govt. asked BP to provide emergency tug for Western Isles

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