from Sunday Herald, 03 September 2006
BLUNDERS at Britain’s nuclear bomb bases on the Clyde rose dramatically last year, provoking fears about the safety of extending the lives of the Trident submarines stationed there.
Internal reports from the Royal Navy obtained by the Sunday Herald reveal that the number of serious or significant “nuclear safety events” at Faslane and Coulport, near Helensburgh, has doubled. There were 45 such incidents between June 2004 and May 2005, twice the average for the previous four years.
The increase was described as “a matter of great concern” by SNP leader Alex Salmond. “These statistics draw into focus the arrogant desire of Tony Blair to waste billions on extending or replacing the Trident nuclear system and imposing it on Scotland,” he said.
The UK government has promised to publish a white paper setting out options for the future of Trident before the end of the year. It is likely to suggest extending the life of the existing system as this will be much cheaper than replacing it.
Protests against Trident are being stepped up this month, with politicians and church leaders planning to march from Faslane to Holyrood. Next weekend will see the launch of a campaign called Faslane 365 which aims to organise blockades of the nuclear base every day for a year.
At least 13 of the 45 incidents at the Clyde bases involved one of the four Vanguard-class submarines which carry Trident missiles tipped with nuclear warheads. They are known within the navy as the “bombers”.
Other incidents happened on shore or on nuclear-powered submarines armed with conventional weapons. There were multiple failures in radiation protection and a series of problems with submarine reactors.
According to analysis by the Royal Navy in August 2005, the increase in serious incidents was “probably as a result of several submarines being alongside for a prolonged period, undertaking a considerable and complicated repair package and then experiencing defects during plant proving”.
Another report by safety officials pointed out that there had been several events “involving poor radiological safety controls on submarines” within a few months. “A review of these events indicates a weakness in command understanding and responsibility for this important aspect of safety,” it said.
In January 2005 four scaffold workers were given excess doses of radiation by the nuclear reactor on HMS Sceptre, and there was an “unauthorised discharge” of waste water from HMS Trafalgar’s reactor in July 2004.
Other lapses included a “cooling water problem”, “failure to set up controlled area” and “unauthorised removal of pipework”. There was also “non-compliance with nuclear procedure by contractor” and an “incorrect reactor compartment waste disposal routine”.
In addition to the 45 serious or significant incidents, there were 34 less serious safety events in 2004-05.
The internal reports, released by the Ministry of Defence under the Freedom of Information Act, claim the increasing number of incidents did not indicate the Clyde bases were becoming less safe. More events were being recorded because staff were more aware of the need to report mishaps, they suggested.
But this was angrily dismissed by John Ainslie, the co-ordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. “These figures show an appalling decline in safety standards at Faslane,” he said.
If the government gets its way, there could be Trident nuclear submarines on the Clyde for the next 40 years, he argued.
“In that time there are likely to be over 3000 nuclear incidents at Faslane, just one of which could turn central Scotland into a radioactive wasteland,” he said.
However, Neil Smith, spokesman for the Clyde bases pointed out that remedial action action had been taken in response to every incident. “This shows that our safety systems are working,” he said. “Every incident is treated seriously. Safety is central to everything we do, and if our safety wasn’t up to scratch, the regulators could close us down.”
year / total number of nuclear safety events / number of serious or significant events
2004-05 / 79 / 45
2003-04 / 61 / 25
2002-03 / 41 / 19
2001-02 / 39 / 25
2000-01 / 35 / 19
source: Ministry of Defence
See an earlier story about safety lapses at Faslane here.