from Sunday Herald, 08 October 2006
Trident nuclear submarines docked at the Faslane naval base on the Clyde have suffered a rash of safety incidents, according to an internal Ministry of Defence report.
Three of the four submarines that carry Britain's nuclear warheads suffered 22 "nuclear safety events" between June 2005 and May 2006. They included failures in radiation protection, mechanical defects and "berthing in extreme weather conditions".
A review of safety at the Clyde naval base released in response to a request under freedom of information legislation revealed that five of the incidents happened when HMS Vengeance was docking. This "localised trend" was noted and acted on, said the report.
There were two other incidents associated with HMS Vengeance, plus six linked to HMS Vigilant and nine to HMS Vanguard. These submarines, along with HMS Victorious, can carry up to 200 thermonuclear warheads and take it in turn to patrol the seas.
Altogether at Faslane and the nearby nuclear weapons depot at Coulport, there were 71 safety events in 2005-06. These included "mechanical damage", "reduced manning levels", "deviation from authorised documentation" and "cooling problems due to marine growth".
The report, compiled in July by the Royal Navy's "assurance department" at the Clyde base, attributes 46% of the incidents to "operator error". A further 26% were blamed on "equipment failure" and 14% on "procedure error".
The total for 2005-06 is less than the 79 events in 2004-05 but higher than the previous fours years. The number of serious or significant incidents has also declined since the record high in 2004-05, revealed by the Sunday Herald last month.
The report pointed out that the decline is despite the naval base's education and awareness programme designed to encourage staff to report incidents. There had been "a welcome reduction in radiological events", it said.
According to the independent nuclear consultant, John Large, some of the events were "concerning" as they could have led to people being overexposed to radiation. HMS Vanguard suffered a "failure to correctly manage the controlled radiation area" and a "failure to fit temporary radiation lead shielding".
John Ainslie, the co-ordinator the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: "It is unacceptable that Trident submarines have been involved in 22 incidents in the last year. These figures show how dangerous it to host one of the largest nuclear arsenals in Europe."
Neil Smith, the spokesman for the Clyde base, stressed that the aim was continuous improvement. "We are reasonably confident that we have the right safety culture in place," he said. "We expect people to report every incident, however small."
The review of safety events released by the Ministry of Defence can be downloaded here (2.7MB pdf).