The following is published with the permission of Rob Edwards as www.robedwards.com is temporarily offline.
by Rob Edwards
Over 260 nuclear safety incidents have been reported at the Clyde naval bases in less than five years, according to an internal Ministry of Defence (MoD) report seen by the Sunday Herald.
Three quarters of the incidents are blamed on human error, and are likely to include fires, leaks and procedural blunders. There have been “issues” with a system meant to protect an explosives store from lightning strikes as well as problems caused by staff and resource shortages.
The MoD has also revealed that it is planning a new conventional explosives handling facility at Coulport to deal with the growing number of nuclear submarines due to be based on the Clyde over the next few years.
The revelations on safety have been described as “chilling”, “shocking” and “simply unacceptable” by the Scottish National Party (SNP), which opposes nuclear weapons. But the MoD said it was “entirely misleading” to focus on the number of reported incidents.
An MoD report on its annual review of safety at the Faslane nuclear submarine base and the Coulport nuclear bomb store in Argyll has been released under freedom of information law. Dated September 2012, it discloses how many “nuclear safety events” have occurred in recent years.
Between April 2008 and August 2012 there were 262 such events, most of which were attributed to “human factors”. More than 50 incidents have been logged every year (see table below).
The report does not describe any of the events, but MoD safety reports released for earlier years have revealed that they can include radioactive contamination, small fires and failing to follow safety rules.
The figures do not include incidents involving nuclear weapons, for which no numbers are given. The report does say, however, that there have been “false alarms and system failures” with an “environmental hazard detection system” for the warheads.
The report also says “issues relating to the Lightning Protection System for the Faslane Explosives Store House have not yet been fully resolved”. It makes a several references to a variety of other problems caused by shortages of staff and resources.
“Yet again safety at Faslane is an issue,” said the SNP’s defence spokesman, Angus Robertson MP. “To have more than 50 nuclear safety events every year is simply unacceptable.”
He described the MoD report as “shocking”, and said that it was “chilling” to hear staff shortages and system failures mentioned in connection with nuclear weapons. “Nuclear safety has to be paramount at Faslane – and it is clearly not,” he added. “That should be a matter of deep concern for everyone.”
The Westminster government’s claim that Scotland’s defence was safe in its hands was no longer credible, Robertson argued. “Trident is a hugely expensive weapon of mass destruction dumped on the Clyde, yet our regiments are cut to the bone and there are no ocean-going surface vessels based in Scotland.”
According to John Ainslie, coordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, there had been far too many safety incidents at Faslane and Coulport. “It is very worrying that the MoD is taking on additional nuclear work while they are short of key personnel,” he said.
“Faslane is at a cross-roads. The risks to Scotland will become greater if the MoD goes ahead with its plan to increase the number of submarines on the Clyde.”
The MoD report reveals that the explosives handling jetty at Coulport will become overloaded as a new fleet of seven Astute-class submarines arrive on the Clyde. It says that an “alternative ammunitioning capability” will be needed to take conventional torpedoes on and off the submarines.
The MoD confirmed to the Sunday Herald that a new conventional explosives facility would be required. “A currently unused jetty within RNAD Coulport, the MoD’s existing dedicated weapons handling facility, will be reinstated to handle the ammunition,” said an MoD spokesman.
According to the MoD’s 2012 report the system of reporting nuclear incidents was “an essential tool for continuous improvement and the maintenance of a robust safety culture”.
The MoD spokesman added: “It is entirely misleading to focus only on the number of reports. Our comprehensive reporting system purposely captures even the most minor of incidents, which never pose a threat to the public or our personnel, to ensure all lessons are learned.”
Nuclear safety events at Clyde naval bases
year / number of incidents
April-August 2012 / 21
2011-12 / 52
2010-11 / 57
2009-10 / 61
2008-09 / 71
Total / 262
source: Ministry of Defence
The report on nuclear safety at HMNB Clyde released by the Ministry of Defence can be downloaded here.