Page last updated at 00:50 GMT, Sunday, 14 March 2010

Nuclear panic in Portland over water announcement

Portland Port has berths for nuclear powered submarines

Loud hailer announcements by a water company and a leaflet advising what to do during a radiation leak caused fears of a nuclear catastrophe in Dorset.

Emergency services in Portland were inundated with calls when Wessex Water officials used a hailer to inform residents of a cut to services.

Meanwhile, leaflets had been delivered advising people what to do during a radiation emergency at the nearby port.

One 78-year-old resident said the loud hailer left her "frightened to death".

The leaflets were distributed as part of a Nuclear Accident Emergency Plan exercise at Portland Port on Wednesday evening.

I thought what are you supposed to do? Freeze?
Vivien Hawkins

They advised people in the area to stay indoors, put out fires and boilers, take potassium iodate tablets if they had been issued and wait for the all clear.

However, in an unconnected event, the water company used a loud hailer to inform residents their water was being turned off.

Vivien Hawkins, 78, said: "There was this awful noise. I opened the front door and there was a loud speaker. It was so loud you couldn't hear what he was saying.

"Just after that a leaflet came through the door telling you what to do - douse all fires, close all windows.

"I thought what are you supposed to do? Freeze? I was frightened to death.

"I rang my son and he said 'Have they got a submarine in Portland Port that's leaking?'"

'A bit silly'

The nuclear exercise was run jointly by the county and borough councils, the Royal Navy, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and other nuclear officials.

Dorset County Council said residents were warned about the exercise via local media.

But Winifred Groves, 81, said: "The water works were doing some work.

"They had machines and loud speakers going and it all happened at the same time. That's what caused the panic.

"It was a bit silly to drop the booklets in after dark."

Another exercise is due to take place on 27 April at the port, which offers harbour to nuclear powered submarines.

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