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Answers needed on Vulcan explosion, says Caithness community councillor


By Gordon Calder


A CAITHNESS community councillor is trying to find out about an explosion that occurred at the Vulcan nuclear submarine site at Dounreay in 2017.

Alexander Glasgow believes the incident could have caused serious injuries and is critical of the lack of information provided by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which operates the facility.

He raised the issue at the latest meeting of Thurso Community Council and said he is "still chasing it up" but colleagues wondered why he was asking questions when Vulcan is not within the community council boundary.

Mr Glasgow said: "I find it extraordinary that this isn't considered within our bailiwick. As well as the local economy, a great many employees live in Thurso. We could have had multiple serious injuries here."

The Vulcan site.
The Vulcan site.

He pointed out that an incident involving an accidental release of steam happened at the Heysham nuclear plant in Lancashire in November last year. Three people were injured and taken to hospital. Fire crews were at the site for more than two hours.

Operator EDF said the incident was not related to the nuclear process and there was no danger to public safety. The company said a full investigation would be carried out.

"Heysham shows what could have happened had the situation been different. Three months on, site owner EDF has been ordered to get shipshape but 18 months on Vulcan is still at periscope depth. We do not yet know exactly what occurred," said Mr Glasgow who also broached the matter at a community council meeting last October.

It is not the first time the explosion at Vulcan has been raised in public. In December 2017, Dounreay Stakeholder Group chairman Roger Saxon claimed a fatality could have occurred if someone had been near the boiler

At the time, the MoD sought to reassure residents living near the nuclear test submarine base.

It said the loud noise heard by a number of people following the incident was caused by a steam-heating boiler in a pumphouse building exploding.

The MoD said no-one was injured and the incident did not have any impact on operations at the site. Investigations were said to be ongoing but few other details were divulged.

Mr Saxon said: "There could have been a serious accident or a fatality if someone had been around at the time."

He wanted to know if the remaining boilers at Vulcan are safe. He said answers are required so such an incident does not happen again.

The MoD confirmed an incident with a steam-heating boiler took place at the Vulcan site in September 2017.

A spokesman at the time stressed the incident happened in an unmanned facility, no-one was nearby and no fuel spillage occurred.

Vulcan, next door to the civil nuclear plant at Dounreay, operated a water-cooled nuclear reactor until it was shut down in July 2015.

The site, run by Rolls-Royce, is now being defuelled and prepared for decommissioning.



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