The Bunker: BBC Radio Wales Programme (Document)

Broadcast Radio 4 Monday 6 October 2003, from 20.02 until 20.30

BBC Presenter: Mike Thomson

Producer: Neil George

Unofficial Transcript

BBC Presenter Mike Thomson (Mike): Well we’ve in a very cluttered flat here, papers absolutely everywhere, files records of all sorts and on this table top here I can see a huge selection of different bottles of pills (sound of pill bottles being shaken), what are these Ray?

Ray Fox (Ray): The main box here is the injections I have to have because I get problems with my nervous system with the attack of the uranium and plutonium in the body really I don’t want to take them but I’m forced to take them at times because the pain is so severe…

Mike: Ray Fox does not go home anymore, even the thought of doing so upsets him and fills him with fear… He’s convinced that his house in Reading and the garden outside is contaminated by something toxic something terribly damaging in fact he believes that even setting foot there brings back symptoms of a mysterious illness… his former family home now stands empty after Ray moved into a small terraced house a few miles away… I found him their surrounded by a sea of medicines and documents

Ray: Its too emotional going there… just terrible (voice breaking down) you know how I feel about all this

Mike: When did you last go back there?

Ray: I went back there about a month ago but its was just too emotional… I just want that one more look

Mike: Anxious to get to the bottom of the cause of his health problems, Ray turned first to his GP then his local hospital before asking Reading Council to investigate… He even approached the press in the hope they would stir the authorities into action… But he says he struggled to be taken seriously… then his health got even worse and Ray began to think that he was dying… It was then that he turned in desperation to Dr Joseph Kees the German physician who specialises in treating victims of chemical and radioactive poisoning… the Doctor made some interesting discoveries

Dr Kees: I found a lot of toxins like slightly raised dioxins in fatty tissue like lindane the pesticide lindane and we found even uranium in his blood stream double as high as the accepted normal value and this toxic mixture seemed to cause multiple chemical sensitivities syndrome

Ray: When I bought the house in 19 1988, I planted the garden for the first year and nothing grew… that was rather odd because I had been very successful you know into gardening… the following year the same happened again so and then we found some white worms in the garden… I was very.. I don’t know what these were so I took them to a friend of mine and he said white worms… that’s radiation

Mike: Ray passed on this rather worrying information to Sun Alliance the company that insures his home… they promptly commissioned a detailed survey of the property. It was carried out by consultant toxicologist Dr Kartar Badsha

Dr Badsha: The results shocked me.. We found out.. we found out in was uranium, Plutonian, some 55 times above the background levels… I advised my client that this report must be made available to everybody whose interested in it… and on a personal level I, I advised Mr Fox that he should no longer stay there and he should make sure that that neither his children nor any children and/or anyone of child bearing age should go into the house until the house is remedied… It’s the worst house I have ever been to… I think even er the levels of Chernobyl were there was accident… in relative terms were not as high as compared to this house because there is no nuclear activity anywhere around that area and one would therefore expected to find very low levels

Mike: But where could these radioactive materials have come from? We decided to contact Dr Richard van Steenis, a retired GP who’s dedicated himself to investigating various chemical and radioactive anomalies…

Dr Dick van Steenis: The interesting part which has been discovered is the ratio of the two isotopes of uranium the 235 and 238 which identifies the type of uranium that’s on site. And this ratio was 24.5 in Fox’s house and this proves that the uranium is actually weapons grade and the Plutonian is reactor grade.

Mike: So if that is correct, what could have caused the existence of weapons grade uranium and reactor grade Plutonian in the back garden of Mr Fox?

Dr van Steenis: That is the burning question. Now it can’t have come from Aldermaston because of the distance and because of the depth of soil that we took these specimens at. So that’s out of the question. It won’t have come from fall out because that’s at the other proportion so we’ve left with a story that was put to us of a reactor underground, under the old Shell site.

Mike: The site behind Rays house was formally owned by the oil company Shell. They sold off the land to developers and its now a housing estate. When the firm moved two metres of topsoil was stripped away to get rid of any possible contaminants. But could they have left behind some sought of nuclear bunker buried many metres deeper than that? Ray thinks this is a distinct possibility going by a document that he thrust in my hand. It’s a photograph taken of the Shell site once the soil was being cleared.

Ray: The land was being decontaminated allegedly decontaminated and a friend a friend of mine said take some photographs of anything they are doing and just keep them for legal purposes… they may come in useful some other time… The photograph when I see it looks likes a foundation to me but when I studied it and I blew it up on a computer actually to have a look at it myself to see what is really was it certainly wasn’t a foundation, it was far too deep and I realised it was a tunnel of some sought it was a walkway

Mike: Now that the sites been built on there’s nothing to see anymore but might a neighbour of Rays have spotted a similar underground structure before the homes were built… I knocked on a few doors but many people had only recently moved in and none of the longer term residents had seen anything strange. Except that is for one neighbour. Richard Collett wasn’t sure about underground bunkers but he had definitely seen the same white worms that Ray had talked of

Richard Collett: Don’t matter where you dug you get you get white worms, even in the greenhouse yeah they were all just white worms, no reds ones at all, somebody did test it, must have been the Council… white worms he said, your talking rubbish so I said am I, I don’t why but I put my hand down and picked it up and put it and I said there… and there it was, a white worm… Good God he said, I’ve never seen that before

Mike: So white worms, radioactive pollution, photo’s of underground structures, what on earth, or should I say under earth, is going on? It was at this point that we decided to commission the environmental physicist, Dr Chris Busby, to conduct a variety of tests in and around Rays garden. Intrigued, Dr Busby soon got togged up and prepared to climb down a manhole at the far end of Rays lawn.

Mike: Your covered from head to toe from Wellington Boots, a protective suit that zips up above your head and face.

Dr Busby: I’m putting on some gloves because if there’s anything down there I don’t want to end up like Ray Fox. This is a scintillation counter, it measures Alfa beta and gamma ray radiation (clicking noise heard in background) So that’s fairly low, your getting well less than two counts per second, one point three points per second so we’ll see what’s down here…

(noises like in an echo chamber)

Mike: Chris there are some incredibly strange noises going on down there sort of science fiction type horror sounds

Dr Busby: Doesn’t it like some monster from the deep is what I would say, bird from the nether regions of the earth

Mike: Indeed

Dr Busby: I going to take an integral of the material okay… I’m also going to I think I ought to do a gamma spectrum as well… I only have to put the detector down there and sought of leave it there

(more clicking noises on sound track)

Mike: Leaving Dr Busby to his own devices I went off to meet a man who knows all about underground nuclear bunkers.

(excerpt of audio: voice concluding a conference lecture says “proof of suffering from risk of radiation decease in the gulf” - ends with background applause)

Professor Asef Durakovic, a colonel in the US Army is a key speaker at a conference in London on the effects of low-level radiation. He spent much of his time at the US defence departments nuclear agency.

Professor Durakovic: Over at several stories underground one side of my office was nuclear reactor… the other side was cobalt 60 very powerful facility with enough radioactivity to wipe out everybody who lived in the building. So I was exposed to very high sources of radiation. Because as the head of experimental radiation and experimental nuclear medicine for the defence nuclear agency for many years… I never saw the daylight for about three or four years… it looked spooky like StarTrek movies… long metallic corridors… narrow hallways… small cubicles… small rooms… monstrous big several stories facilities with the pool of cooling water to the reactor… with a blue light Cherenkov radiation at the bottom of it and really looked like Battleship Galactica…

Mike: Battleship Galactica’s may litter the subterranean soils of the USA but surely not Britain’s? Could we possibly have hoards of secret bunkers beneath our gardens too? Well quite possibly if a Dr Francis Walley happened to have been in the area. He designed and built numerous nuclear bunkers in the UK during and after the Second World War…

Dr Francis Walley: What we did was to build either full scale or model buildings to devise the rules for the required thickness and reinforcement of structures to resist different explosive effects… there in a sense straight-forward buildings… right… except that they had a pair of normal structures with very thick walls… they also have to be proof also against leakage going out of anything being dealt inside… so a, basically they were designed to stop somebody attacking them from the outside

Mike: Even though Dr Walley had built a bunker under the government nuclear facility in Aldermaston, he didn’t think it likely they would find another in suburban Reading… Well it just goes to show how wrong even experts can be… Just a short distance from Rays home on the south side of Reading University is a large two story building half sunk in the ground.

(sound of iron gate being opened?)

This once secret nuclear bunker was built in 1953 along with 13 others in undisclosed places. A man who knows all about it is Roger Thomas, co-author of the book – “Cold War Building for a Nuclear Confrontation”

(sound of someone climbing stairs)

Roger Thomas: Its role will have been to provide in effect control of a region which ultimately were there to be nuclear war would have functioned if it had survived as almost a petty kingdom… erm.. the intention was that the various regions that did survive an attack would ultimately link up together to reform central government

Mike: Mr Thomas believes that this is one of several hundred nuclear bunkers buried all over Britain. So how possible does he think it is that one of these bunkers possibly containing radioactive materials could be lying submerged behind Rays garden?

Roger Thomas: It’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility… buildings were certainly build in urban environments and they were always built usually with a cover story or certainly shrouded in secrecy

Mike: Armed with this information I went back to Rays neighbor Richard Collett… had he had any fresh memories? He had. He says he remembers seeing something odd poking out of the ground when contractors were removing contaminated soil from the old Shell site

Richard Collett: we got up on the steps to have a look and there was all these… well I don’t know what they were.. they were like little rooms right well down you know underneath buried… empty rooms.. you couldn’t describe them because they were put in at such an angle… the only way they looked like rooms was because they were cut in the earth… you know what I mean and er you couldn’t see in there at all so it just looked… well it looked like someone had been living there and then filled it all in… somebody said it was something to do with nuclear… specially over there… but I can’t see that, can you?

Mike: It was a question I put to Dr Chris Busby as he emerged from his hole in the ground

(more sounds of Geiger counter clicking)

Dr Busby: Its rather frightening down there… Don’t know why really… It just is… There’s a fair bit of radioactivity around that pipe.

Mike: How much would you say?

Dr Busby: About double, three times background… there’s something there… Its not that pipe, its that one… it’s the little thin one… I mean its not huge you know but its certainly something so er what we need are some samples really

Mike: (more Geiger counter background noise) We’ve come to a housing estate just behind where Ray Fox lives… looks a bit like Brookside here… totally normal modern houses… and Chris Busby’s come along with all his equipment and Chris I understand you suspect we may find something here in the way of radioactivity?

Dr Busby: (Loud background noise of Geiger counter) This area all along here now seems to be showing quite high count rate 17.1… we’ve quite close to a drain that appears to be blocked… we’ve getting 15 counts per second, 14.8, 14.4, 13, this is about six times higher than background here in the way of this drain which is full of dirty evil looking water

Mike: It went up at one point to 30 counts per second, is that

Dr Busby: yeah

Mike: Could that be a health hazard?

Dr Busby: Well 20 counts per second could be a health hazard if there were children playing here all the time in my opinion

Mike: I left Dr Busby to gather a series of samples which we would send for analysis at the University of Wales laboratories in Bangor. While we waited for the results I got in touch with the National Radiology Protection Board, the NRPB – the body responsible for advising the government and the public on radioactive concerns… Spokesman Mike Clark says the Board is already aware of Rays worries.

Mike Clark (of the NRPB): In our advisory role, we we gave advice to the environment agency and to a local district council on the levels and said the reported levels are unusual. You wouldn’t expect to find them in Wokingham. And so the local authority and the EA wanted to monitor the area themselves. There’s a problem, there’s a problem getting publicity there but Mr Fox wouldn’t allow them on the property so they did surveys in the vicinity and found nothing unusual. All levels there were quite normal for Berkshire. So we were faced with the situation of reported levels on Mr Fox’s property that were unusual, they weren’t life threatening… but they were unusual, but all around they were quite normal

Mike: So would our tests which had been done both on and around Ray Fox’s property reach a similar conclusion?

Mike: Two weeks later the results came back from the lab. Dr Chris Busby summarised the findings.

Dr Busby: The samples from the drain on Fox’s property showed levels of Plutonium that were not particularly high but were higher than they should be… by a factor I don’t know, of perhaps 10 times but you see the problem is we are dealing with something that happened almost 20 years ago and we’ve got to look for evidence long after the event so all we can do is to examine the isotope ratios to see if their anomalous and the material from the drain certainly showed there was too much Plutonium there.

Mike: And what about the samples taken from the street behind Rays house?

Dr Busby: What we found there is that the em the levels of Plutonium were 2.52, that’s not extraordinary high, its about fours times higher than it should be, but the cesium ratio was very high so this all sounds quite complicated but it can be simplified… there is too much Plutonium there.. you know by a fairly high factor even in the samples we took there’s too much Plutonium there… and then in terms of the uranium samples, the earlier samples showed uranium ratios which contained enriched uranium probably from a reactor or from a bomb, I mean that’s it in a nutshell really.

Mike: Enriched uranium from a reactor or a bomb sitting beneath Rays garden. If Dr Busby’s conclusion is accurate it appears there must be some sort of bunker or bomb nearby… I decided to go back to the NRPB and ask them what they thought of this rather worrying conclusion.

Spokesmen Mike Clark again.

Mike Clark (NRPB): And outstanding claim requires outstanding evidence and I think just on the basis of an odd ratio of trace amounts of Plutonian to conclude that there might be a nuclear reactor buried nearby is taking it a bit far… I can’t say it’s completely impossible but I think its very unlikely

Mike: But what about the levels of Plutonian we found… how worrying are they… Professor Dudley Goodhead, Director of the Medical Research Council has warned that its dangerous to inhale even the minutest amounts of Plutonian… a view share by Eric Wright, Professor of Experimental Hematology at Dundee University, another top expert in the field… Professor Wright claims that the long-term genetic effects of inhaling small amounts of Plutonian can create health problems for up to five generations

Mike Clark (NRPB): Professor Goodhead’s work and Dr Wrights work are well known in the radiological protection fraternity if you like and and I would say the levels of dose here from the trace amounts in Mr Fox’s garden are no where near the one millisievert doses that you need to see this effect though we do accept there are uncertainties in the risk estimates and they may be do to things like Professor Goodhead’s and Dr Wrights hypotheses

Mike: There are also continuing uncertainties about what is to blame for Ray Fox’s mystery illness… Is it being caused by contamination from some form of radioactive material such as the Plutonian traces we found down the drain in his garden and if it is could it be coming from an old nuclear bunker buried just a few yards away… In an effort to answer this last question once and for all this programme called in a company called Oxford Archaeotechnics … it specializes in using high tech equipment to detect and define objects buried deep underground but when we asked for the consent of residents living above the suspected bunker almost to a man they refused… the commonest reason given was the possible effect on house prices that more talk about bunkers might have.. Meanwhile an earlier request to Shell the former owners of the site was finally bearing fruit. The company declined our request for an interview but agreed to answer our questions with written replies… we had already discovered that many years ago the firm had applied for a license to handle radioactive material so we began by asking them if they had stored such substances on their former site.

The company gave this response…

Shell: We may have brought materials on the site that incidentally were radioactive to some small extent for example there is evidence that the company applied for a license under the Radiology Substances Act in the 1960’s but although we do not have a record of the reason the license was obtained this would not have been an uncommon event

Mike: Shell went on to admit that they had conducted research into high grade lubricants for the nuclear industry and had worked with the Atomic Energy Research Establishment back in 1954 to research the effects of neutron radiation on lubricating oils but not they said on this particular site… But they insisted that after the company had left the Reading site it had been thoroughly decontaminated to internationally agreed standards. But the million-dollar question still remained. Was there ever an underground research facility beneath the Shell site at any time from 1946 to the date the site was sold?

Shell: NO, we can state categorically and absolutely that there was never an underground research facility at Earley nor has there been at any other Shell site elsewhere at anytime

Mike: So that appears to be that… Our buried nuclear bunker is an urban or should I say suburban myth… it doesn’t exist nor ever did… But just as “Document” was shutting up shop we came across a man who claimed not only to have seen a nuclear bunker behind Rays house but to have actually been in it… Fearful that telling us what he knows might ruin his career or even jeopardise his personal safety our witness asked to remain anonymous… But he agreed we could refer to him as a medical physicist who used to visit the site regularly

Anonymous physicist: If you can image an area which was underneath what looked like ordinary conventional petrol storage area and which had a large set of steps which there were very large platforms which are like the kind of platforms used by people in wheelchairs for going up and down flights of stairs but rather larger than that… in addition to this the bottom of the stairs which contained two bends as one went down from the surface down to the actual reactor chamber there was also two double sets of lead lined and steel doors and adjacent to the actual reactor chamber were a number of bedrooms both single and double with associated bathrooms and also a boardroom and various administrative offices and in addition to this quite a large restaurant and also a separate reading room.. the practice of my colleagues and myself was to visit these premises approximately two or three times a year in relation with our work on testing high vacuum oils for mass spectrometers…

Mike: Unfortunately we found no one else able to back up our witnesses’ colourful account… Nonetheless Green MEP Caroline Lucas is concerned the authorities are often to quick to dismiss the worries of people like Ray and reluctant to answer quite legitimate questions

Dr Caroline Lucas MEP: I am hoping to put pressure on our own government to reveal the kinds of information that many people have spent many years trying to get from them… But I think one of the problems of this whole industry is that it is shrouded in secrecy… But it seems to me that people who live in the vicinity of these kinds of installations have a right to know what’s going on there… they have a right to know whether their public health has been effected… The European Union through the Euratom Treaty has responsibility for overseeing and coordinating nuclear safety in the different member states and so I think its quite right that if our own government isn’t able to tell us what was going on here and isn’t able to reassure us about public safety in this area then the European Commission does have a role there to step in and indeed to look at some of these wider issues around the fact that we know there are clusters of cancers and leukemia’s which do seem to be around nuclear facilities… now to my mind that’s a very unlikely coincidence.. it seem to be some cause and effect going on there and I think we need to discover actually what it is

Mike: Of course if it was proven that there was a link between these clusters and indeed work carried out with radioactivity or indeed any other pollutant presumably the government could find itself liable for enormous compensation claims from people living in these areas

Dr Caroline Lucas MEP: I think your right… It points to the fact that we need a proper independent assessment here and we shouldn’t be having to rely on government agencies which have a built in resistance really to finding anything which might have big implications to them when it comes to paying compensation

Mike: So where do we go from here? Well with the right equipment it is possible to determine exactly where these radioactive material came from because Plutonian has individual fingerprints… this would finally solve the mystery, but Ray is having none of it… He believes that whilst the British authorities may be willing to look at his problem they won’t want to find anything due to fears about claims for compensation but that doesn’t mean he’s giving up… on the contrary he’s moving up a gear and taking his case to Brussels

Ray: Well the conditions are simply now that we went to the European Commission now and said that that we think that we should use a foreign country as part of the testing procedure now because of what had happened… all I know is that the samples from my body, the samples from my house match… and that’s what’s concerning me and I still feel very ill and I am getting iller and I want to get to the bottom of this… we need to we have to get to the bottom of this to the point now I have now taken up with the Home Secretary David Blunkett now for an inquiry… I’m hoping to get an answer from him very shortly

(Sound of Geiger counter and subterranean noises)


In connection with the above issues, Royal SunAlliance insurance company retained the services of environmentalist Dr Dick van Steenis, who in turn, commissioned toxicologist Dr Karta S Badsha MSc CCem MRSC MAE. The BBC retained the services of Dr Chris Busby Phd.D, Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risks and CERRIE - Committee Examining Radiation Risks.