The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) broadly welcomes a ‘preparedness review’ of nuclear weapon road convoys that travel through Scotland, but calls on concerted action from all emergency responding agencies and the Scottish and UK Governments to resolve the report’s concerning outcomes and learning points.
The Scottish Government launched a ‘preparedness review’ (1) on the safety of nuclear weapon road convoys undertaken by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) as a result of pressure put on it by concerned non-governmental organisations (NGO) like ‘Nukewatch’ (2), and a full debate within the Scottish Parliament initiated by Mark Ruskell MSP.
Such road convoys take place around six times a year (and could increase when Trident replacement is ramped up) between the Atomic Weapons Establishments in West Berkshire and the Royal Navy sites in Faslane and Coulport on the west coast of Scotland. Groups like the NFLA have consistently raised concerns over the risks and safety of such road transports over many years.
The report was conducted for the Scottish Government by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary for the Police and Fire Services of Scotland.
The report concludes that there are ‘strong plans’ in place to deal with the consequences of a serious accident and collaboration between responding agencies is good. The report argues that learning points are focused on ‘fine tuning’ training, clearance and information sharing between agencies.
NFLA would like to focus on these ‘learning points’ that seem to it to be a little more serious than ‘fine tuning’. The 14 areas for improvement included:
- Public Health England recognised that a radiation emergency would place strains on available resources to monitor radiation, as well as those to collect and analyse samples.
- The Scottish Ambulance Servicewarned that the demand for radiation monitoring equipment after an accident may be great and could be a challenge for them to source.
- In addition, the Scottish Ambulance Service is not pre-informed by the Ministry of Defence or other emergency responding agencies when road convoys travel up through Scotland. Neither are Local Authorities, despite both being important to the multi-agency emergency response.
- Food Standards Scotlandrecognise a nuclear emergency could place a strain on their existing resources.
- The Marine Scotlandagency admitted that they needed to clarify arrangements on protocols for ‘safe collection, storage and transport of samples’.
- A number of important emergency procedures had still to be ‘finalised’ by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, on areas as important as operational guidance and intelligence sharing.
- Police Scotlandwere criticised in the report for only conducting a ‘verbal briefing’ for officers prior to convoy movements. There were also concerns over a lack of clarity regarding access to sensitive information.
- For local authorities the only recommendation for substantive action was to provide wider participation of all relevant local authorities in nuclear / radiological related training and exercising.
NFLA makes the obvious point that none of these areas of improvement would be coming about but for the pressure placed on public agencies from an ongoing challenge of concerned NGOs, Members of the Scottish Parliament and the NFLA that led to this report being commissioned in the first place.
These are all important areas of concern, and NFLA calls on the Scottish Government to oversee a full review and audited progress from each agency that they have undertaken these ‘areas for improvement’.
NFLA remains concerned that the core request from Nukewatch’s ‘Unready Scotland’ report was to encourage a greater level of public information on this matter from local authorities through the statutory ‘warning and informing’ role within the Civil Contingencies Act. This area is only lightly touched upon in the report, with a brief comment that ‘the balance with the warning and informing duty between keeping people advised and unnecessarily alarming them was known and accepted’.
For NFLA this is an inadequate response from local authority emergency planning units – public surveys by ICAN UK in their ‘Nukes of Hazard’ project for example have shown that two in three (64%) British adults said they did not know that nuclear weapons travel past towns and cities, whilst almost half (47%) said that knowing about nuclear weapons convoys caused them concern. (3)
In the NFLA’s view local authorities, emergency responding agencies, the Scottish and the UK Government should be providing generic and useful information to the wider public that an active risk comes through their area on a regular basis, and what to do in the event of an accident involving such a weapons road convoy. While it is important not to be alarmist, it is also equally important that the public are made aware that such road convoys regular pass by large towns and cities and have within them the potential risk of a serious accident. This is not just the case for this issue, but other areas of nuclear and toxic materials transportation, as well as civil and defence nuclear site emergency planning.
The NFLA Scotland Convener is writing to the Scottish Government to make these important points.
NFLA Scotland Convener Councillor Feargal Dalton said:
“I welcome that the Scottish Government has sought to instruct emergency responding agencies to consider a preparedness review on the safety of road convoys transporting nuclear weapons on a regular basis through much of Scotland. I hope the Ministry of Defence can learn from them about such a culture of transparency. However, I would urge the Scottish Government to be aware that there are some serious areas for improvement and they must ensure they are actioned upon. This particularly includes the lack of public emergency information on such issues, and this report largely glosses over that matter. I urge a fuller public debate on core issues within nuclear emergency planning so that if an accident should ever occur, and we obviously hope that may never happen, that the public is able to cooperate with the emergency response due to understanding the risks that come from nuclear related incidents.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) Police and Fire Service Constabularies of Scotland joint preparedness report. ‘Road transport of defence nuclear material in Scotland’, June 2019
(2) Nukewatch Scotland, ‘Unready Scotland’, August 2017
(3) ICAN UK, ‘The Nukes of Hazard’, May 2016