Britain’s 110 nuclear alerts are revealed: Safety watchdog makes a mockery of the MoD’s claim of just 27 ‘incidents’ in 65 years
Controversially, the MoD has its own internal nuclear regulator, which critics say lacks independence and cannot hold top brass to account over safety issues.NIS research manager David Cullen said: ‘Our report shows the MoD’s response to an accident is to downplay it and to hope nobody noticed it. With nuclear weapons, the risks are so large the MoD should not be allowed to continue to regulate itself.’
- A catalogue of more than 100 incidents show how close we came to disaster
- The figure is four times higher than the Ministry of Defence has ackowledged
- This included a truck carrying weapons overturning and two submarines nearly colliding
A chilling catalogue of more than 100 accidents involving Britain’s nuclear weapons reveals for the first time how often we may have come close to disaster.
The shock report by an independent nuclear watchdog documents 110 major alerts – four times higher than the Ministry of Defence has acknowledged.
Among the incidents in the dossier by the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), which has been seen by The Mail on Sunday, are:
- British warships carrying nuclear depth charges by mistake in the 1982 Falklands War;
- a mid-Atlantic collision between nuclear-armed British and French submarines in 2009;
- a truck carrying nuclear warheads overturning on an icy road in Wiltshire in 1987;
- the deaths of 116 UK nuclear workers from accidents and cancer.
The MoD’s sole comprehensive report on accidents involving nuclear weapons was published in 2003 and detailed just 27 incidents.
The NIS dossier follows the recent disclosure that a British Trident submarine-launched missile crashed into the Atlantic last year in an incident that was apparently hushed up ahead of MPs voting to renew the UK’s commitment to an independent nuclear deterrent.
Drawing upon whistleblower and eyewitness accounts, along with news reports and academic sources, the NIS has counted 27 fires at UK nuclear establishments, 14 serious accidents in the production of nuclear weapons and eight explosions since Britain developed atomic weapons.
There have also been 22 incidents on road transport; eight incidents involving storage and handling; 45 accidents on nuclear-capable submarines, ships and aircraft; and 21 ‘security incidents’, according to the report – entitled Playing With Fire – to be released this week.
According to experts at the NIS, the incidents have been caused by equipment failures, shortages of key safety items and staff failing to follow strict instructions and safety procedures, and some could have resulted in nuclear explosions.
Last night, the NIS called for Britain’s Defence Nuclear Programme to be placed under the responsibility of the Office for Nuclear Regulation, which regulates the civil nuclear industry.
Controversially, the MoD has its own internal nuclear regulator, which critics say lacks independence and cannot hold top brass to account over safety issues.
It claims there have been seven deaths after industrial accidents at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, where nuclear warheads are manufactured
The NIS report goes back to the creation of Britain’s nuclear deterrent in 1952. It claims there have been seven deaths after industrial accidents at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, where nuclear warheads are manufactured.
A further nine people have apparently died from radioactive contamination. A fire at the Windscale reactor in Cumbria in 1957 is said to have caused 100 fatal cancers among workers.
The report also claims the MoD launched a cover-up after a collision between a British and a French submarine – both carrying nuclear warheads – in the Atlantic in 2009.
HMS Vanguard and Le Triomphant were apparently on separate manoeuvres when the vessels bumped into each other at a depth of 1,000ft in the Bay of Biscay. The MoD insisted that at no time was the safety of the subs or their crews in any jeopardy. But the NIS report includes testimony from an unnamed officer on Vanguard, who said: ‘We thought, this is it, we’re all going to die.’
An information blackout was also imposed by the MoD after a road accident in Wiltshire in 1987 when four nuclear bombs slid from a truck into a roadside ditch.
The MoD said: ‘The safety of the public is our priority… In over 50 years of transporting defence nuclear material in the UK, there has never been an incident that has posed any radiation hazard to the public or to the environment.’
The Royal Navy mistakenly took nuclear weapons to the Falklands War, storing them aboard the ship on which Prince Andrew served.
The WE.177A nuclear depth charges were taken aboard aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, from which the Prince flew sorties as a Sea King helicopter co-pilot with 820 Naval Air Squadron.
The Nuclear Information Service report estimates that there were ten warheads aboard Invincible, 16 on the second British carrier, HMS Hermes, and more aboard support ships in the task force dispatched by Margaret Thatcher in 1982.
The Nuclear Information Service report estimates that there were ten warheads aboard Invincible
According to the report, the Royal Navy should have removed the ordnance from the warships before the fleet sailed to the South Atlantic, but the task was not performed since offloading the weapons would have given the Argentinians more time to dig in.
The presence of the weapons aboard British ships in the Falklands War was not officially confirmed until 2005.
An MoD report that year acknowledged the risks involved but added: ‘The operational imperative to dispatch the task force as rapidly as possible was judged by admirals and Ministers to take precedence over the safety advantages of returning the weapons to a home base.’
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