Alex Salmond. Photo Reuters
A Scottish nationalist leader has accused Britain of
disrespecting the Scottish parliament over its handling of a
problem with a Scotland-based nuclear reactor, stoking tension
between London and Edinburgh before an independence referendum.
Alex Salmond, the leader of Scotland's devolved parliament,
demanded an apology from Prime Minister David Cameron after
not being told that an internal leak was found in 2012 at the
Dounreay site in Scotland where a test reactor identical to
those on Britain's nuclear submarine fleet is housed.
British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said on Thursday
that radiation had been discovered in cooling water around
the reactor. He said the leak had not posed a safety risk and
that nuclear regulators and Scottish environmental
authorities and had been notified at the time.
Salmond's reaction shows the strained relations between the
British and Scottish governments as campaigning before the
referendum turns increasingly acrimonious. In recent weeks,
nationalists have accused Britain of bullying over its
refusal let Scotland share the sterling currency if it voted
Salmond, who has promised voters a nuclear-weapons-free
Scotland if they back independence, seized on the fact that
the leak had not been disclosed sooner to the Scottish
"You must now offer an immediate explanation of why your
government allowed this to happen, an apology for the
disregard of established processes and a commitment that it
will never happen again," Salmond said.
He criticised London for drawing a "veil of secrecy" over the
incident, saying it had instructed the Scottish Environment
Protection Agency (SEPA) not to disclose the leak.
A spokesman for the British Ministry of Defence said it had
not ordered the information to be withheld from the Scottish
government. SEPA said in a statement the Defence Ministry had
asked that it use the information "on a strict need-to-know
basis for security reasons".
The Scottish government also said Hammond's statement that
there had been no measurable leak at the site was false,
citing official data which showed a rise in the level of
radioactive gases emitted at Dounreay between 2011 and 2012.
SEPA data showed the level rose but remained less than half
the annual limit.