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Alarm over Kingussie nuclear waste train incident

By Tom Ramage

Tor Justad
Tor Justad

THE rail operator responsible for transporting nuclear waste from Dounreay through the strath has sought to reassure residents after one of its trains ran a 'stop' signal at Kingussie.

The service – carrying spent nuclear fuel to Sellafield – was forced to wait for nearly two hours at the location while safety checks were carried out.

Direct Rail Services said that there was never at any time a risk of the train being involved in a collision.

But Badenoch and Strathspey MP Drew Hendry (SNP) said it was unthinkable to imagine what could have occurred.

He is now calling for all rail consignments of hazardous nuclear materials to be stopped until an "open and transparent" enquiry is carried out.

The incident occurred on Friday night and brought instant condemnation from anti-nuclear campaigners.

Tor Justad, chairperson of the Highlands Against Nuclear Transport group said: "This should concern everyone in Scotland.

"The main reason that this incident should be of concern is that it is one of a number of such incidents involving the movement of nuclear spent fuel and waste from Dounreay to Sellafield.

"The nuclear materials being removed from Dounreay as part of decommissioning are highly radioactive and moving them from a secure site by sea and rail creates unacceptable risks."

Mr Hendry, MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, described the incident as "alarming".

He said: "We must be thankful that nobody was hurt or directly affected but make no mistake this is an alarming incident and further underlines the dangers of operating nuclear facilities and moving toxic nuclear waste.

"For DRS to say that there was no risk is simply not acceptable.

"Stop signs are there to indicate the danger of proceeding, usually of a train coming the other way. It is unthinkable to imagine if that had been the case.

"Disappointingly, this incident reaffirms the significant risks around nuclear transport and the urgent need for a review of procedures.

"I am calling for an open, transparent inquiry into this incident and a stop to all shipments until it is complete.

"This cannot be allowed to happen again."

Direct Rail Services confirmed that one its trains had run the red light in the Kingussie area.

The company stated: "On Friday evening a Direct Rail Services train, carrying spent fuel from Georgemas Junction to Carlisle, passed a 'stop signal' at low speed then quickly came to a halt a few metres past the signal.

"It stopped well within the safety area provided for incidents of this nature.

"At no time was there any risk of collision and the flask consignment remained completely safe at all times.

"There was a delay to the service whilst all normal railway protocols were adhered to and the train continued its journey and arrived at its destination point of Sellafield on time.

"The safety and security of all transport operations is our number one priority.

"The safety record of moving spent fuel by rail is exemplary.

"This material has been transported in this way since 1962, travelling over 12 million miles without any incident involving the release of radioactive material.

"Both Network Rail and DRS employees responded immediately and the incident was managed in a very professional manner."

But HANT, formed in 2013 with the aim of stopping all shipments from Dounreay by sea, rail and now air, believes transporting nuclear waste from the Caithness site is fundamentally dangerous.

Mr Justad said: "Until a safe way is found to store nuclear waste it should be stored above ground on the sites where it has been produced and be under constant security and monitoring.

"This was one of the options considered for Dounreay but was rejected on cost grounds although the actual savings were never quantified, so the waste is being transported to the most toxic nuclear site in Europe until a Deep Underground Repository is built – it has to last at least 100,000 years and may never be built."

HANT has also said there have been several serious incidents despite assertions to the contrary.

Mr Justad said: "Since these movements began accidents have included a derailing at Barrow and the breakdown of a ship in the Pentland Firth in October 2014 carrying nuclear waste from Dounreay to Antwerp.

"It took 15 hours for an emergency towing vessel to reach the ship and personnel on an oil rig had to be evacuated as there was a likelihood of a catastrophic collision.

"Since 2017 Highly Enriched Uranium has been flown from Wick Airport to the United States via RAF Lossiemouth as part of an Obama-Cameron nuclear deal.

"The reason the USAF transport planes have to fly to Lossiemouth is to refuel as the runway at Wick is 1000 feet too short for the plane to take off with a full load of fuel despite the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority spending £8 million to upgrade it.

"These are examples of incidents which are reported – because of the secrecy of the nuclear industry we have no idea how many incidents go unreported."

It is understood nuclear material is transported by rail through the strath on the Highland main line on a regular basis but details are scant on security grounds.

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