HC Deb 03 March 1981 vol 1000 cc92-3W
Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the interim report from the board of inquiry set up by the Port Admiral, Rosyth, to investigate the loss of a redioactive isotope in the dockyard.

Mr. Speed

I have now received the Port Admiral's interim report of the circumstances in which a radioactive isotope was lost in the Rosyth naval base. The report traces the known movements of the source, sets out the arrangements for recording the usage of sources of this type, and details the search procedures which have been carried out so far both inside and outside the naval base. The completion of the full report is being pursued as a matter of urgency.

The inquiry established that the source was sighted on 20 January 1981; and that it could not be traced on 5 February 1981 when required by the dockyard civil defence officer for a routine test. Searches were carried out at once and its possible loss was reported to the chairman, Naval Nuclear Technical Safety Panel and Her Majesty's Inspector of Factories as required by regulations.

Searches of increasing intensity involving the use of hundreds of staff and radiation sensitive instruments were extended to include all buildings in the naval base and the dredging of underwater areas. On 17 February, the File CID were informed by Ministry of Defence police that a radioactive source was missing and they have since taken an active part in the investigation and search including a visual and radiological search of tips outside the naval base. Some waste building material had been removed from the area and the possibility, however remote, that the source had been removed with the waste had to be considered.

I visited the Rosyth naval base yesterday and I am satisfied that search procedures have been carried out thoroughly and competently and have included even the most unlikely areas. Further searches are continuing.

What I am not satisfied about, and the interim report brings this out, is whether the established procedures for controlling and recording the usage and movements of the source in the health physics department have been observed as meticulously as they should have been. It is apparent that inadequate records, while not the basic cause of the loss, possibly delayed its detection and hindered investigation and search procedures.

The interim conclusion of the board of inquiry is that, despite the thoroughness of the search, the probability is that the source is still within the naval base. The board cannot, however, totally exclude the possibility that it may be outside the naval base, although no theory can be advanced as to how this might have occurred. Action has been taken to alert the general public in the area about the characteristics of the source and the need to report its whereabouts to the appropriate authorities.

I shall ensure that the full report is produced at the earliest opportunity. Meanwhile, procedures for handling radioactive sources are being reviewed and tightened up.

I do not believe that this isolated incident involving the health physics department reflects adversely on security arrangements in the rest of the naval base at Rosyth. However, on my instructions the board of inquiry will address itself specifically to this subject.

I would like to assure the House that, when the full report is available, I shall take whatever action may be appropriate to implement the lessons learnt from this incident.

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