DEFENCE: Alarm over nuclear safety incidents at Faslane and Coulport bases

May 29, 2022

By Rob Edwards in The Ferret

The number of more serious “nuclear site events” recorded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) at the Faslane and Coulport bases, near Helensburgh, has risen from seven in 2019 to 13 in 2021.

In total the MoD has logged 460 safety incidents of all kinds at the two UK nuclear bases in 2019, 2020 and 2021. It has declined to give details of any, but previously said they may include “near-misses, equipment failures, human error or procedural failings”.

Campaigners described the rise in more serious incidents as “particularly troubling”, and accused the MoD of having “let safety standards slip”. They warned there could have been a “near-miss catastrophe” and demanded more openness.

The MoD, however, stressed that it took safety incidents “very seriously” and had “robust safety measures” in place. None of the recorded incidents had caused any harm to people or the environment, it claimed. 

The MoD released the latest figures on nuclear incidents at Faslane and Coulport in response to a parliamentary question at Westminster. Faslane on the Gareloch is the UK Government’s base for nuclear-armed Trident submarines and other nuclear-powered submarines, and Coulport nearby on Loch Long is where the nuclear warheads are stored.

The figures show that there were three incidents in 2021 officially rated as “category B” and 10 rated as “category C”. That compared to one C incident in 2020 and one B and six C incidents in 2019.

According to the MoD, category B means there was “actual or high potential” for a release of radioactivity which could have caused “unplanned individual exposure to radiation”. Site safety rules could have been breached or “significantly” prejudiced.

Incidents categorised as C have “moderate potential” for radioactive releases which could have caused “unplanned individual exposure to radiation”.  There could also have been a “failure of line of defence or protection”.

There were a further 50 incidents in 2019, 26 in 2020 and 41 in 2021 that were rated as “category D”. That means there was a “low potential for release”, but an “adverse trend” that could affect safe operation.

Another 101 incidents in 2019, 122 in 2020 and 99 in 2021 were classified by the MoD as “below scale”. This means they were “of safety interest or concern, including human error, equipment or process failures that cause near misses, abnormal occurrences.”

Aerial images of Faslane
Photex of Faslane and Coulport installations.
LA Phot Pepe Hogan

The full investigation is on The Ferret website

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