The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) welcomes the publication of a report, ‘Playing with Fire’, by the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), which outlines over 100 incidents and accidents with the UK’s nuclear weapon programme. (1)
The NFLA Secretary was one of the speakers at a special launch of the report in Portcullis House, Westminster, where he outlined the concerns of the NFLA on one part of the report – the risks of, and actual accidents and incidents with, the UK’s nuclear weapon road convoys. (2)
The report presents the accident record of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme over its 65 year history, so as to remind the public of the risks posed by nuclear weapons and alert politicians and decision-makers of the need to eliminate these risks.
Key highlights of the report include:
- The Ministry of Defence has only published once (in 2003) an official list of accidents that have occurred to British nuclear weapons. That only recorded 27 incidents and is far from a full record.
- The NIS report notes 110 accidents, near misses, and dangerous occurrences with the UK’s nuclear weapons programme. This includes 14 serious accidents relating to the production and manufacturing of nuclear weapons, 22 incidents in the road transport of nuclear weapons, 8 incidents with the storage and handling of nuclear weapons, 45 accidents to nuclear capable submarines, ships and aircraft, and 21 security-related incidents.
- In almost all cases the UK Government has downplayed the seriousness of the accidents and refrained from telling all the facts relating to them.
- Accidents have occurred for a variety of reasons including equipment failure, equipment over-use or in short supply, operations hurried or conducted under pressure, or workers failing to follow the strictest instructions and procedures.
- Resources in the Ministry of Defence (MOD) are stretched after cuts to budgets, exacerbating these hazards. There is also an added issue of retaining and recruiting competent staff.
- Experience shows it is impossible to guard against unpredicted and unforeseeable chance accidents. With the complexity of nuclear weapons, accidents may occur as the understanding of the technology and systems is inadequate in comparison to the risks they pose.
- Throughout the 65 year history of UK nuclear weapons, there are many examples where operational needs have been placed ahead of safety needs due to relentless pressure being put on managers, military commanders and politicians to maintain nuclear operations.
NFLA completely supports the recommendations of the report to Government to:
- Introduce procedures for publicly reporting accidents involving nuclear weapons.
- Place MOD nuclear programmes under the external regulation of the Office for Nuclear Regulation.
- Support an international ban on nuclear weapons to permanently eliminate the risks posed by accidents involving such weaponry.
At the special launch of the report the NFLA Secretary focused on the part of the report around road transport of nuclear weapons convoys as a real risk to the public. He also referred to an informative ICAN UK report ‘The Nukes of Hazard’ which highlights the many risks of an accident involving a nuclear weapons convoy. (3) Other speakers focused on the NIS report and the issues that come out of normal accident theory and practice.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
I commend NIS for producing such a well researched, troubling and important report. For too long the Ministry of Defence have hid under a cloak of secrecy diluting information on the significant number of accidents that have occurred to the nuclear weapons programme. This report brings many of those accidents to the public’s attention. The report confirms the NFLA’s view that it has often been more luck than judgement that one of these accidents has not led to more catastrophic consequences to the public and the environment. There is an urgent need for independent regulation of these activities and for greater openness and transparency. Just last month we found out that the MOD had kept quiet a failure of a Trident missile test for many months. We still do not have the full facts of what actually went wrong. It is clear to me that the only real answer is to cancel Trident replacement and for the UK to go to the upcoming UN conferences on a nuclear ban treaty and support multilateral nuclear disarmament.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) Nuclear Information Service, ‘Playing with Fire: Nuclear Weapons incidents and accidents in the United Kingdom’, February 2017
(2) The NFLA Secretary’s presentation to the launch of the report in Westminster will be placed on the NFLA website http://www.nuclearpolicy.info
(3) ICAN UK, ‘Nukes of Hazard: The Nuclear Bomb Convoys on our Roads’, November 2016. http://nukesofhazard.co.uk