Sunday, 16 May 2010

Sunday Herald report “Revealed: the catalogue of chronic safety blunders at Scotland’s nuclear navy bases

Sunday Herald report “Revealed: the catalogue of chronic safety blunders at Scotland’s nuclear navy bases”

“The Ministry of Defence is struggling to deal with hundreds of safety blunders, pollution leaks and environmental lapses at nuclear weapons bases on the Firth of Clyde. Official reports obtained by the Sunday Herald reveal that Faslane and Coulport have been plagued by nuclear accidents, radioactive contamination and fires over the last two years. Worryingly, there have been unspecified “shortfalls” in the safe management of nuclear bombs. And rules meant to protect people against asbestos and even Legionnaires’ disease have been frequently broken. The Government’s safety watchdogs have also warned that unless millions of pounds are invested in replacing the ageing radioactive waste plant at Faslane, it will no longer be safe in four years’ time. That will add to the multi-billion pound bill for keeping nuclear weapons in Scotland, critics say.”

Full story at and

If accurate this article raises a number of questions. Firstly, shortfalls in radioactive waste management were highlighted as long ago as 2001 by RWMAC in their independent review of MOD radioactive waste management practices; it seems that very little has been done to implement their recommendations. It also seems that another independent review of MOD radioactive waste management practices is long overdue.

The sorts of safety and environment failings highlighted in the article may indicate weaknesses in the safety culture on sites associated with the naval nuclear programme. It is interesting to compare these with those highlighted in the reports into the explosion and fire at Texas City Oil refinery USA and to what extent cultural and organisational similarities exist between BP and the MOD.

It is also worth considering to what extent improvements in safety and environmental performance might be delivered if the Naval Nuclear programme and facilities were subject to civil regulation under the NIA and RSA rather than the current system of internal regulation. There may be significant cost savings for tax payer and MOD since there would no longer be a need to fund the system of internal Regulation; the urgent need to find savings within Government budgets would seem to encourage this.

The case for civil regulation was put by RWMAC in their 2001 report, recommending that:-
“Irrespective of MoD's assurance and, where necessary, its own regulatory arrangements, RWMAC believes that, as an overriding general principle, the benefits of civil regulation in helping to maintain operational standards, and in promoting assurance and transparency, are not in doubt. Thus, there should be a presumption that civil regulation should, as far as is reasonably practicable, be applied to MoD nuclear and radioactive waste management activities. Where there is a case for not doing so, this should be clearly set down and justified”

And further recommend that:-

“Subject only to real security considerations, the principles of openness and transparency should be taken as far as is reasonably practicable to help promote public confidence in the safety of MoD's nuclear and radioactive waste management operations”.

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