The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has apologised for upsetting local residents by detonating 23 loud blasts at the UK nuclear bomb store at Coulport in Argyll last week.
People living in Ardentinny, a small village on the opposite shore of Loch Long a mile from Coulport, say they have been “traumatised” by the continual explosions, which made it feel like they were living in a “war zone”. They are furious that the MoD failed to forewarn them.
The MoD says the blasts were part of a staff training exercise, but has refused to elaborate. It told residents that they were “nothing to worry about”.
The Argyll and Bute MSP, Michael Russell, who is also the Scottish government’s education minister, yesterday wrote to the UK defence secretary, Philip Hammond, after being contacted by residents. “Coulport has been a bad neighbour and it needs to apologise and mend its ways,” he told the Sunday Herald.
“Many residents were very worried by the blasts which were at times intense enough to shake houses. The fact that no warning was given and that there has still been no adequate explanation makes the situation even worse - and there is a fear that explosions may start again at any time.”
The blasts started on Monday without any warning. On Wednesday, after being asked by residents, the MoD said they were finished for the week but then let off a further 11 explosions on Thursday and Friday.
“We have been told that further exercises may take place next Tuesday or Wednesday, however we have no way of knowing if this is correct,” said David McDowall from the community website ardentinny.org.
“We are particularly concerned about our vulnerable residents who, like the rest of us, have no idea as to when the next explosion will occur.” This makes people “very jittery”, he said.
Ardentinny has about 150 permanent residents, a large percentage of whom are over 60, as well as holiday homes and an outdoor centre used by hundreds of children.
“Homes, residents and their pets throughout the village have been affected by these blasts,” said McDowall. “Each explosion sounded like a bomb going off in Ardentinny and, at times, in your own home.”
Local community councilor, Bill Williamson, has been trying without success for two years to get the MoD to attend meetings to say what was happening at Coulport. “When we felt the first blast hit our house this week my immediate thought was a missile had been dropped,” he said.
He phoned the police to complain, and was referred to the MoD. He added: “The blasts have continued to shake our windows and very foundations all week giving the sensation of being in a war zone.”
Another resident, Bill Bincham, also phoned the police after pictures fell off his wall because he thought there had been an accident. He runs livery stables nearby in Glenfinart.
The explosions were damaging his business, he said. On Thursday one of his clients had the “terrifying experience” of being pinned against a wall by five horses panicked by a blast.
John Ainslie, coordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, agreed that an explosion at Coulport would be frightening. “It could signal a major nuclear accident at the home to Britain's nuclear arsenal,” he said.
“The least that the MoD should do is to inform the local community in advance that these exercises are taking place.”
An MoD spokeswoman said: “This exercise was part of training for staff at RNAD Coulport. I’m afraid I can’t say any more than that.” She said that it was “not related in any way” to Exercise Joint Warrior, a huge NATO exercise currently taking place around Scotland.
The spokeswoman pointed out that the Coulport exercise took place in “a remote area”. She added: “We apologise for any distress caused to the local community by the loud noises. We will ensure advance warning is given for any future training.”