Risks To Public And Environment At Nuclear Weapons Sites

February 2011

Reports from the Defence Nuclear Environment and Safety Board, covering 2006 and 2007, say that staff shortages and funding cuts at nuclear weapons sites across the UK have put the public and the environment at risk.  They were released to The Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act.

They say there are eleven “potentially significant risks” at bomb-making sites and ports housing nuclear submarines and warn that efforts to reduce radioactive risks have been “weak”, safety analyses “inconsistent” and attempts to cope with change “poor”.

The reports also show that there is “no funded plan” for the decommissioning of Britain’s 16 defunct nuclear submarines. Nine are moored at Devonport and seven at Rosyth on the Firth of Forth.

  • The sites at which there were “potentially significant risks” include Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire, and thenuclear submarine and weapons bases at Faslane.
  • The workforce, the public and the environment were all being put at risk.
  • A 10% shortage of suitably qualified staff was “one of the greatest challenges to the sustainable future of the defence nuclear programme”.
  • Cuts in funding were hampering the MoD’s ability to ensure good safety performance. “Often … the management approach is to first impose a reduction in resource, and only then to assess its implications.
  • Fulfilling the legal requirement to reduce radiation exposure to “as low as reasonably practical” was often weakened by “excessive” cost estimates and delays
  • The MoD’s response to major organisational changes was “generally poor and significantly below best practice in the civil nuclear programmes”. In 2007 the risks posed by the MoD’s lapses were “degrading”.
  • The control of potentially hazardous activities was “below best practice” at several sites, with particular problems highlighted at Devonport in 2006.
  • Arrangements for the transport of warheads and other nuclear materials were “inconsistent” and emergency plans “have not accorded with standard UK practice”.
  • None of the risks were “an immediate safety or environmental concern”. But there had been failures to comply with safety procedures.

Guardian, 13.1

The Scottish Sunday Herald has raised many concerns about safety at nuclear sites.

It reports that “rules meant to prevent accidents and radioactive leaks at the nuclear bomb bases on the Clyde have been suspended seven times in the last two years”, with obvious safety implications.  “The Ministry of Defence has admitted that normal safety standards have been relaxed on 18 occasions since 2000 at … Faslane …, and at the Coulport weapons store”. 30.1

“For the first time it is … being seriously canvassed by experienced Ministry of Defence (MoD) trade union officials [that a] terrible accident could be brought about by privatisation and cutbacks at the Faslane nuclear submarine base on the Clyde”.  6.2