The Trident nuclear base has been condemned by the Scottish Government’s green watchdog for its “poor” environmental performance after it polluted the Gareloch and Clyde with toxic chemicals, according to a journalistic investigation by Rob Edwards, editor of The Ferret.
The Ferret revealed that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) criticised the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine base at Faslane and Coulport in Loch Long for breaching pollution rules in 2019.
According to the navy this was because a “higher than usual level of chlorination” was detected in the Gareloch off Faslane. The base uses chlorine to prevent its waste discharge pipes from becoming clogged by algae, barnacles and seaweed.
Chlorine is classified by the UK Government as “very toxic to aquatic life” because it poses “acute hazards to the aquatic environment”. The chemical’s compounds in water are known to harm fish, shellfish and other wildlife.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) accused the UK Government, which runs the Faslane base, of having a “callous disregard for Scotland’s natural environment”. Campaigners described Faslane’s poor rating as a “major alarm bell”.
The Royal Navy, however, insisted that this was an “isolated event” and that pollution had been low in 2020. It took its environmental responsibilities “very seriously”, it said.
Sepa usually assesses the environmental compliance of thousands of Scotland’s industrial sites every year. But publication of its assessments for 2019 has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic and the cyber attack on Sepa’s computers on Christmas Eve 2020.
Covid-19 also caused Sepa to abandon its entire compliance assessment scheme for 2020.
The Ferret has now learnt that Faslane was assessed as “poor” for 2019 because of a previously unreported pollution incident. Sepa defines poor as “non-compliant or responsible for at least one significant breach”.
Sepa refused to comment on the breach until its compliance assessments of all sites were released “in due course”.
But the Royal Navy explained that it was because the Gareloch had been polluted with chlorine compounds at some point in the last three months of 2019. “An isolated event was reported to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency,” said a spokesperson for the Royal Navy.
“A higher than usual level of chlorination had been measured in a 2019 sample from the Gareloch. The levels have since been normal throughout 2020, are well below the levels in drinking water, and are considered not to have an adverse environmental impact.”
The spokesperson added: “The Royal Navy takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and continues to work with the relevant UK authorities to comply with legislation and reduce environmental risk. HM Naval Base Clyde continues to monitor, report and work with Sepa.”
The full investigation by Rob Edwards is on The Ferret website.