Convoys carrying nuclear bombs and hazardous radioactive materials by road through Scotland and across the UK have suffered 70 safety lapses in five and half years, according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
A new log of incidents released by the MoD under freedom of information law reveals that vehicles have suddenly broken down, fuel has leaked, brakes have overheated, alarms have malfunctioned and many other vital systems have failed while convoys were on the move between July 2007 and December 2012.
The convoys, which ferry Trident nuclear warheads to and from the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport on the Clyde, have also gone the wrong way, been delayed, been diverted and lost communications. Incidents have happened on average more than once a month, with by far the highest number – 23 – logged in 2012 (see tables below).
The revelations have drawn fierce criticisms from leading Scottish Nationalist and Labour politicians, as well as campaigners concerned that the convoys’ “deadly cargoes” pose unique and unacceptable dangers. The MoD, however, insists that they are safe.
Perhaps the most serious incident occurred late in the afternoon of Monday 25 July 2011, when a convoy command vehicle broke down on the northbound carriageway of the M6 motorway near junction 20 in Cheshire. The commander’s official report of the incident, released with large sections of text blacked out by the MoD, gave a vivid description.
The vehicle “suffered a sudden and dramatic loss of power and was forced to pull onto the hard shoulder of the motorway together with the rest of the convoy assets,” he wrote. Nuclear warhead convoys can include up to 20 vehicles.