The Sunday Herald can reveal that the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport has narrowly avoided being licensed for inspection by the UK government’s nuclear safety watchdog. This is despite its operation being taken over in January by a group of private companies headed by the US arms dealer, Lockheed Martin.
The revelation has prompted one former senior MoD safety official to warn that workers and the public are being put at risk by lower safety standards. It has also angered politicians and trade unions, who suspect a “cosy stitch-up” to save money.
Ministry of Defence (MoD) nuclear sites have historically had crown immunity from prosecution because they’ve not been covered by nuclear safety legislation. But in the past when their management was put into private hands, this has had to change.
In 1997 the bomb-making factories at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire were licensed under the Nuclear Installations Act and subject to independent inspections after they were handed over to private companies. Critics say this has greatly improved safety and transparency.
But the same has not happened at Coulport. Internal documents released under freedom of information law show that the companies now running the nuclear weapons store escaped safety licencing because the MoD’s continuing oversight was deemed “the absolute minimum that is acceptable.”