The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) welcomes today’s publication of a report by the UK branch of the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) that uncovers the risks and hazards from the weekly movement of nuclear weapons by road between the nuclear weapon sites in West Berkshire and the naval bases west coast of Scotland.
The report has been developed for ICAN-UK by the freelance investigative journalist Rob Edwards with assistance from groups like Nukewatch, CND, ICAN and NFLA. (1)
The report notes that there have been eight real accidents involving nuclear weapon convoys between 1960 – 1991 and a further 180 safety incidents that have occurred between 2000 – 2016. As the report notes: “The convoy has crashed, broken down and got lost. Its brakes have failed; it has leaked fuel and suffered a range of other mechanical failures. Bad luck, poor weather, human error and computer software glitches have all been to blame.”
Other key points in the report include:
- Nuclear weapon convoys are dogged by pressures that could increase accident risk, particularly the chronic shortage of skilled nuclear engineers that could threaten overall safety.
- The demands of nuclear secrecy and security could compromise safety as local authorities and fire services are not forewarned about convoy movements and are unforthcoming about their emergency plans.
- Materials for nuclear weapons are driven through or flown over 122 local councils in the UK, including close to densely-populated areas such as Oxford, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle, according to Ministry of Defence data.
- There are a series of credible accident scenarios that could trigger fires, explosions and the breach of bomb containment, leading to the risk of a radiation leak.
- Evidence from a Ministry of Defence report suggests that in extreme circumstances an accident could trigger a nuclear reaction, which may deliver potentially lethal doses of radiation.
- In such a scenario, radiation contamination could spread over at least 10 kilometres requiring the evacuation of thousands of people.
- The public get no warning of such convoy movements and ‘have never agreed to accept the dangers’.
The report argues a serious accident is credible and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is duty-bound to be more open and transparent about such convoys to the communities on convoy routes up and down England and Scotland. NFLA supports this view and has consistently called for improvements to develop local emergency plans and that local authorities and fire services are properly informed of convoy movements by the MOD.
NFLA does not accept the bland assurances from the Ministry of Defence that there is little to worry about – in the event of what are credible scenarios local authorities, health and fire services could be facing major issues evacuating and protecting local communities. (2) NFLA calls on the MOD to engage more with such agencies and the wider public to ensure public safety is enhanced. Of course, the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons programme means the public will continue to be put at risk for decades to come. NFLA also welcomes two upcoming additional events for the promotion of this report in Glasgow and London. (3)
NFLA Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
I welcome this important report commissioned by ICAN-UK which charts the risk and dangers to the public of often weekly nuclear weapon road convoy movements. The report accurately and cogently summarises the real risks for local authorities, fire services and public health bodies who may have to directly deal with the consequences of a major accident involving such a convoy. It remains ridiculous that local authority emergency planning units and fire services are not informed as a matter of course about the transport of such convoys. This puts them at a great disadvantage in the event of a serious accident, and puts the wider public at potential risk from radiation exposure. The Ministry of Defence should respond to this report by reconsidering such practices and informing all appropriate agencies as a matter of course. The replacement of Trident means such activity will sadly continue for decades more to come.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) ICAN-UK report, ‘Nukes of Hazard – the nuclear bomb convoys on our roads’, 21st September 2016 http://nukesofhazard.gn.apc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/NoH_Report_Final.pdf. The report can also be found on the NFLA website https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/NoH_Report_Final.pdf. A short film of the issues concerned can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vz5qBo4AczE.
(2) The Guardian, 21st September 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/sep/21/uk-nuclear-weapons-convoys-have-had-180-mishaps-in-16-years
(3) The report will also be profiled at two other events over the next 10 days:
Tuesday September 27th, Jury’s Inn Hotel, 80 Jamaica Street, Glasgow, G1 4QG, 7pm – 8.30pm. Speakers include the report author Rob Edwards, along with Alison Thewliss MP (Glasgow Central), Councillor Martha Wardrop (Glasgow City Council), John Ainslie (Scottish CND), Jane Tallents (Nukewatch). It will be chaired by Rebecca Sharkey (ICAN UK).
Monday October 3rd, Friends Meeting House, London, 173 – 177 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BJ, 5pm – 6.30pm ‘Protecting our Cities’, special event with Mayors for Peace and the Peace Boat. Speakers include the report author Rob Edwards, Dr Rebecca Johnson (Acronym Institute), Akira Kawasaki (Peace Boat), Joji Fukahori (Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor), Mariko Higashino (Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor), Sean Morris (Mayors for Peace), Clive Lewis MP (Shadow Defence Secretary, to be confirmed). Chaired by Councillor Grace Fletcher-Hackwood (Manchester City Council) and Caroline Russell (member of the Greater London Assembly).