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SEPA confirms Dalgety Bay remediation work is complete

Date published: 15 September 2023

Radioactive substances

Scotland’s environment regulator has confirmed that work to remove radioactive particles from the foreshore at Dalgety Bay and prevent future contamination has been completed.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) are satisfied that the remediation work carried out by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and its contractor Balfour Beatty, alongside future monitoring plans and agreed maintenance of rock armour by Fife Council, means the public will be able to enjoy access again for the first time since 2011.  

Radioactive material was first detected on Dalgety Bay foreshore in 1990. SEPA established that the contamination originated from the residue of radium-coated instrument panels of military aircraft that were burned and buried at the end of World War II. Investigation works carried out by SEPA identified several caches of particles – with the largest contained within the headland at Dalgety Bay Sailing Club.  

The remediation work replaced rock armour around the headland and installed a replacement slipway for the Dalgety Bay Sailing Club to ensure that higher activity sources are no longer being eroded out and washed onto the beach, preventing public access to the remaining contamination.  

During the two-year project, areas of the foreshore were excavated and processed to remove asbestos and radiological contamination. Around 6,500 particles, mostly low activity, have been removed. Work was paused between October and April each year to protect over wintering birds.   

The MOD will now complete a two-year programme of monitoring to demonstrate the effectiveness of the remediation. The SEPA and Fife Council signs advising of the historic contamination will remain in place until this programme is complete. Following the MOD programme, SEPA will take over monitoring of the area to give the necessary public reassurances in perpetuity. Fife Council has committed to the ongoing maintenance of the rock armour around the headland to ensure lasting effectiveness. 

“The completion of this work is significant for Dalgety Bay and for Scotland’s environment. SEPA have been clear in our requirements that remediation would be done once, and it would be done right – providing a permanent and positive resolution for the communities who lived with the environmental legacy of Second World War radium contamination for several decades.   There are many people in SEPA, myself included, who have been working for many years to deliver this outcome. The journey to successful remediation was only possible because SEPA, Fife Council DIO continued to work constructively together with a range of partner organisations, scientific experts including COMARE and UKHSA and, most importantly, the local community.”
“I’m so pleased the beach at Dalgety Bay will finally be back in use for the public after such a long time. The community has been very patient through all this disruption and I’m delighted that they can finally enjoy the area again."  
“I’m very pleased that this work has been completed successfully and that the local community will once again be able to enjoy unrestricted access to Dalgety Bay. I’d like to thank SEPA and all partners for their continued hard work to deliver this and to ensure that access can be maintained in the future.”
“It’s great to see Dalgety Bay once again open for communities to enjoy, thanks to the hard work of the Ministry of Defence and our organisations and partners. I am very pleased that work to address this long-standing issue has been successful.  We will continue our monitoring to ensure this beautiful area can be enjoyed safely.” 
“This was a highly complex and specialist project which saw multiple challenges, including the constraints caused by the need to protect over-wintering birds.   That it has been delivered successfully is testament to the excellent collaboration between all partners including, DIO, SEPA, Fife Council and the Dalgety Bay Sailing Club, and the excellent delivery of design and works by our contractors AECOM and Balfour Beatty.” 
“This is a significant achievement for Balfour Beatty, the MOD and SEPA.   Over the last two years, we have worked diligently and collaboratively to remove radioactive particles from the foreshore and restore safe and unrestricted access to Dalgety Bay for the local community for the first time in more than a decade". 

Notes to editors

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Left to right: Rob Bowditch from Fife Council; Andy Harley from AECOM; David Harley from SEPA; Peter Franklin from Dalgety Bay Community Council; Cllr David Barratt from Fife Council; Paul Dale from SEPA; Cllr Altany Craik from Fife Council; Calum MacDonald from SEPA; David Salmond from DIO; John MacKenzie from Dalgety Bay Sailing Club; Liam Browne from Balfour Beatty

  • COMARE – The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment is a UK-wide advisory committee
  • UKHSA - UK Health Security Agency
  • Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element with a half-life of 1,600 years and was historically used by the MoD in luminescent paints.
  • Radium 226 consists of:
    • alpha particles, which can be stopped by a piece of paper
    • beta which can be stopped by thin metal
    • gamma radiation which requires thick concrete to stop 
  • Thousands of particles have been removed from Dalgety Bay over the years through a programme of monitoring and retrieval, ranging in size from tiny specks to pieces as big as half-bricks.
  • Some sources have been high activity and would have been a significant hazard if people came into contact with them. 
  • The Radioactive Contaminated Land (Scotland) Regulations 2007 and their amendments came into force in 2007 and the statutory guidance was issued in 2008. Under these regulations, SEPA has the responsibility for the investigation, identification, characterisation and regulation of remediation of radioactive contaminated land.
  • More information on the history and background to Dalgety Bay is available.