The public, military personnel and the environment could be put at risk of accidental explosions, spillages or radiation leaks, according to a new assessment by the MoD’s internal watchdog, the Defence Nuclear Environment and Safety Board.
A summary of the board’s report for 2010 by its chairman, Howard Mathers, says that safety issues “present a risk that it will become increasingly difficult to maintain that the defence nuclear programmes are being managed with due regard for the protection of the workforce, the public and the environment.”
The report by Mathers, posted on the MoD’s website without announcement, warns that there is a “lack of adequate resource to deliver the defence nuclear programmes safely”. There is an “adverse trend in resources’, he points out, “which I expect will become yet more painful.”
Mathers adds that “the frequency and significance of incidents remain too high as a result of poor control of work”. The principal dangers in the medium term, he says, “are the adequacy of resources, both money and staff complement, and the maintenance of a sustainable cadre of suitably competent staff.”
“Decisions were taken in the defence review without a proper consideration of their impact on safety generally and nuclear safety in particular,” he said. “The ability of the MoD's internal regulator to do its job is being compromised by the lack of resources.”
The assessment by Mathers is the latest in a series of warnings from within the MoD about the impact of cutbacks on nuclear safety. It comes in the wake of the reports last week that UK defence ministers had decided to hand over the management of the nuclear bomb base at Coulport on Loch Long to a group of private companies, including the US arms dealer, Lockheed Martin.
Trade unions, politicians and disarmament campaigners warned that public safety would be endangered because companies could be tempted to cut corners. A motion expressing concern was lodged in the Scottish Parliament by the SNP MSP, Bill Kidd.
The Coulport sell-off was also condemned as “absolutely horrific” by the prominent SNP minister and newly-elected MSP for neighbouring Argyll and Bute, Michael Russell. “The privatisation of weapons of mass destruction is a policy without precedent and can only be described as both foolhardy and reckless,” he said.
The move, however, was defended by the local Liberal Democrat MP, Alan Reid, who pointed out that the site would still be owned by the MoD. “The Labour Party started the privatisation of our nuclear deterrent,” he said. “This is a continuation of the process begun by Labour.”
An MoD spokesman said: “The MoD takes its nuclear safety responsibilities very seriously. Work is underway to deliver continuous safety improvement in the areas raised by the report.”