28 April 2009
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it was “extremely disappointed” with the attitude of Faslane supervisors towards protecting their staff from potential accidents. Critics have compared the base’s safety bungles to those of the cartoon character, Homer Simpson.
The document, released to Channel Four News under freedom of information legislation, discloses a series of mishaps which have worried the HSE. In one incident a “spray leak” of radioactivity had caused “potential contamination”.
In another incident, ship’s staff were accused of “failing to control a designated area”. According to the HSE, these two events “seemed to point to a lack of understanding” of radiation safety rules.
There had been a “recent history of radiological incidents on boats”, the HSE said, and it was “concerned” about staff training and knowledge. Faslane’s radioactive waste disposal building was “in a poor state”.
The HSE document (3MB pdf) also highlighted a “malfunctioning” radiation monitor which took “several days” to be repaired, “inconsistencies” in radiation safety procedures, and “confusion” over the appointment of a radiation protection official.
A broken lock on a radiation safety door was left unrepaired for “a couple of weeks”, the HSE said. “It is disappointing that safety related equipment is allowed to remain inoperable for a considerable period”.
During a visit by HSE inspectors in autumn 2007 one of Faslane’s safety officials tried to leave a radiation area by-passing the proper monitoring and safety checks. “He was discretely sent back by the engineering manager,” said the HSE.
“However, the monitor’s actions suggested custom and practice human behaviours in radiological matters.”
In another incident, HSE inspectors who pointed out a series of safety lapses in Faslane’s nuclear engineering workshop were told that they would be dealt with “in a short while”.
The HSE said: “The team was extremely disappointed with this response and considers it reinforces a site need to address behaviours and attitudes at the site.”
In a letter to HM Naval Base Clyde on 7 December 2007, the HSE warned that “there was some evidence that procedures may not always be followed”. It made 21 recommendations for improving safety at the base.
According to the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the HSE report was further evidence of “shoddy practices” at Faslane. “The MoD is repeatedly asking people to carry out radiological work without giving them suitable training,” said the campaign’s co-ordinator, John Ainslie.
“Faslane would be quite happy to employ Homer Simpson and put him in charge of the safety of nuclear weapons.”
An HSE spokeswoman said last night that the problems it had highlighted had been “properly addressed”. But she pointed out that Faslane was exempt from normal safety law.
“Unlike the majority of nuclear facilities inspected by HM Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, HM Naval Base Clyde is not a licensed site under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965,” she said.
The MoD stressed that safety was “of paramount importance” at Faslane. It sought to ensure that its procedures were “so far as is reasonably practicable, at least as good as those required by legislation.”
An MoD spokesman said: “It would be remiss of HM Naval Base Clyde if its staff did not carry out the most rigorous monitoring of its nuclear assets – and this is clearly demonstrated in the detailed reviews which are carried out annually.”
He added: “There is a progressive programme to replace all waste disposal facilities at HM Naval Base Clyde by 2014, with capabilities reflecting modern standards and best practice.”
The HSE document is available to download here (3MB pdf).