An inherent flaw in Trident missiles could lead to fires, explosions and widespread radioactive contamination, according to a top-secret safety manual leaked by the naval whistleblower, William McNeilly.
The Royal Navy’s official instructions on how to take care of nuclear weapons reveal that the “chief potential hazard” from a live missile is the “accidental ignition” of solid rocket fuel. This could cause the warheads’ conventional high explosives to detonate and scatter plutonium and other toxic materials “over a wide area”, it says.
The Trident D5 missile, used by both the UK and the US, is designed with nuclear warheads closely wrapped around the third stage rocket motor. This has been highlighted as a design flaw by US experts in the past, but has not previously been acknowledged by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The results of a rocket fuel fire at sea or on land could be “catastrophic” for submariners and the public, critics warned last night. The MoD, however, said it had to train for every scenario “no matter how extreme and unlikely”.
McNeilly, as well as alleging 30 Trident security and safety concerns in an 18-page dossier revealed by the Sunday Herald last weekend, says he filmed the weapons safety manual on his smart phone. Codenamed CB8890, it is a book kept in a safe in submarine missile control centre, he says.
Extracts quoted by McNeilly disclose that the warheads “clustered around the third stage rocket motor are at risk from a rocket motor propellant fire”. Exposed to heat, the warheads’ conventional high explosives “could cook to (non-nuclear) detonation, releasing radioactive materials and aerosols over a wide area,” the manual says.
If warhead containment is breached, “several radioactive and/or toxic materials may be exposed to the atmosphere,” it says. “These include plutonium, uranium, lithium compounds, tritium gas and beryllium. If mixed with water, fumes or toxic gases will be generated.”