Revealed: 505 nuclear safety incidents at Faslane naval base

HM Naval Base Clyde at Faslane and an Astute class submarine in the Gareloch.

Rob Edwards, investigative reporter

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has recorded more than 500 safety mishaps with nuclear submarines on the Clyde since 2006 – half of them in the last four years.

UK defence minister, Stuart Andrew MP, has disclosed that there have been 259 “nuclear site event reports” for Trident submarines based at Faslane over the last 12 years. Over the same period there have been 246 safety events on nuclear-powered but conventionally-armed “hunter-killer” submarines berthed or docked at the naval base.

However, yesterday, the MoD told The Dumbarton Democrat:

“None of the events caused harm to the health of any member of staff on the Naval Base, or to any member of the public, and the safety significance has remained very low.

“The MOD, however, takes all such incidents, no matter how minor, extremely seriously and ensures they are investigated and appropriate measures put in place to prevent a recurrence.”

Overall 23 incidents were categorised as having a “high potential” for leaking radioactivity into the environment or within a submarine or building. Some 148 incidents were said to have a “moderate potential for future release or exposure”.

Critics have warned of “a degradation of safety culture” within the naval nuclear fleet and called for urgent action to reduce the dangers. The MoD stressed that it took the incidents “extremely seriously” but that no-one’s health had been damaged.

Faslane is the home port for most of the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet, including four Vanguard-class submarines armed with Trident nuclear missiles, and three new reactor-driven Astute-class submarines with conventional weapons. Four more Astute submarines are due to be based there when they have been built.

Faslane is destined to host the planned new generation of nuclear-armed Dreadnought submarines to replace Vanguard. The port also gives berths to three ageing Trafalgar-class nuclear-powered submarines and until 2011 harboured nuclear-powered Swiftsure submarines, now decommissioned.

A letter from Andrew in response to a parliamentary question quantifies all the nuclear events reported for submarines berthed or docked at Faslane from 2006 to 2017. “These events may be near-misses, equipment failures, human error or procedural failings,” the minister said.

“They are raised, however minor they may appear, to encourage a comprehensive, robust reporting culture, undertake learning from experience and to take early corrective action.”

Rob Edwards is editor of The Ferret, a Scottish investigative journalism bureau.

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