The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) notes with concern reports published in ‘The Herald’, and detailed in ‘The Ferret Scotland’ investigative news agency website, that outline a recent demand by the UK nuclear regulator for the repeat of parts of an emergency planning exercise at Rosyth, after failings were found.
For NFLA, such news is part of a growing body of evidence which suggests more systemic concerns around defence site nuclear safety may require attention. It calls on a joint review to be held on nuclear emergency planning arrangements by the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator and the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to allay public concern and to seek significant improvements.
The ONR has ordered Babcock, the company that runs the Rosyth dockyard in Fife for the Royal Navy, to rerun ‘Exercise Nightstar’ in March because of mistakes made last September. According to the ONR report, published on their website, an inspection found there were flaws in the way that staff looked after injured people during the exercise. There were also communication and command problems in dealing with the incident scenario. (1)
The report notes: “The capability in relation to casualty recovery, communications and command and control at the incident scene was not considered by the attending ONR inspectors to be fully demonstrated.”
The report concludes: “Site (Rosyth) will undertake a partial re-demonstration of the emergency arrangements in the areas of casualty recovery and procedures and protocols at the incident scene.”
Such areas are critical for an effective emergency response to an on-site incident, and they also raise real concerns in the event that the emergency services or local authorities are required to become involved with on-site or off-site emergency issues.
This is not the first recent exercise at a MOD site where such flaws have come to public light.
For example, in a 2013 article reported in The Guardian noted that ‘Exercise Senator’, a Ministry of Defence (MOD) exercise testing procedures around a scenario involving a major motorway accident involving a nuclear weapons convoy, outlined “major difficulties” were encountered by the emergency services because they had no assistance from Ministry of Defence weapon experts for five hours.
The exercise report also noted confusion with and between emergency responding agencies, the use of outdated paper communications systems, poor mobile phone signals and conflicting scientific advice on health hazards and confusion over radiation monitoring. (2)
Another example, reported in 2015 in the Daily Telegraph, of ‘Exercise Short Sermon’ at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Plymouth noted that “incorrect advice from the Government’s Science and Technical Advice Cell to Cornwall Council, and a breakdown of communications with the local team, led to an order being given for the wrong village to be evacuated.” The exercise report also noted serious training gaps, communication breakdowns, confusion from the health agencies on casualty information, a lack of detailed maps and radiation plume information that confused on-site staff. (3)
This tallies with issues noted in the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator Annual Report of more generic concerns around safety management arrangements. These include:
- the amount of available resources and suitably skilled personnel in the defence nuclear sector,
- the level of organisational change in the defence nuclear sector,
- concerns over aging plant and facilities across defence sites,
- the quality of product and control work. (4)
NFLA Scotland Convener Councillor Bill Butler said:
I am quite alarmed to hear that the nuclear regulator has needed to call on the Rosyth site owners Babcock to repeat parts of an emergency planning exercise after key flaws were identified in issues as important as caring for casualties, communications and command and control arrangements. For some considerable time NFLA has been concerned that there are more systemic and organisational problems at defence nuclear sites, which often only come to light through emergency exercises. I will be writing to the defence and civil nuclear regulators to call for a full review of the defence nuclear sector to get to the bottom of this. Given such defence sites are responsible for our nuclear weapons programme this is of vital national importance and to wider public safety.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary on 07771 930196.
Notes for editors:
(1) The Ferret 14th Jan 2016
(2) The Guardian, June 12th 2013 http://www.theguardian.co/world/2013/jun/12/nuclear-convoy-disaster-exercise-emergency
(3) Daily Telegraph, January 1st 2015 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/11319848/Dont-panic-How-a-rehearsal-for-a-nuclear-disaster-descended-into-farce.html
(4) Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator Annual Report 2012-13, as noted in a presentation by Peter Burt, Nuclear Information Service to the NFLA English Forum meeting in Oxford, 20th November 2015 (presentation available on request from the NFLA Secretary)