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UK’s Ministry of Defence secretive about safety ratings for the Trident nuclear weapons system

Trident nuclear safety ratings kept secret by MoD, Herald Scotland, Rob Edwards , 14 July 18

THE Ministry of Defence has refused to reveal official safety ratings for the Trident nuclear weapons system and nuclear-powered submarines on the Clyde, citing “national security”.

The annual ratings, and the reports that justified them, were published for ten years by the MoD, uncovering a series of concerns about spending cutbacks, staff shortages and accidents. But now ministers have clamped down and decided that they can’t release any findings at all on security grounds.

Experts have accused the MoD of trying to evade public scrutiny, hide “cock-up and incompetence” and endanger public safety. But the MoD has insisted that the secrecy had not prevented independent assessment of the nuclear programme, which met “all the required standards”.

Safety during the refurbishment, transportation and storage of Trident nuclear warheads, along with the operation of the UK reactor-powered submarine fleet based at Faslane near Helensburgh, is regulated by the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR). Unlike the civil nuclear power industry, which is overseen by the independent Office for Nuclear Regulation, DNSR is part of the MoD.

After a prolonged freedom of information battle, the MoD started publishing DNSR annual reports from 2005. They were released over ten years until 2014-2015, highlighting issues as “regulatory risks” 86 times, including 13 rated as high priority, 50 as medium priority and 23 as low priority.

…… In November 2018 the Sunday Herald revealed that the MoD had abruptly decided to stop publishing the annual DNSR reports to protect national security. Last week the defence minister, Guto Bebb, went further, refusing to give any indication of even the headline summaries of the reports covering the last three years…….The Scottish National Party attacked the MoD’s secrecy. “This is simply not good enough and the MoD have a bad track record on transparency,” said the party’s defence spokesperson, Stewart McDonald MP.

“Safety and security are paramount when it comes to anything nuclear – and we need to be confident that is always the case.”

The independent nuclear engineer, John Large, described national security as a “flimsy excuse” for hiding nuclear safety issues. He suggested that the four Vanguard submarines that carry Trident warheads will all have to be brought into dock for unplanned overhauls because of problems with the ageing reactors that drive them.

“There is good reason to believe that both human resource and technical issues are continuing to impact on the reliability and full strength deployment of both the hunter-killer and Vanguard nuclear-powered submarines,” he said.

“The suppression of if and how the Royal Navy is reaching its nuclear safety targets is of great concern because within the MoD’s hierarchal review structure there is no opportunity for independent assessment. In effect, the buck stops short of a faceless admiral, whose primary duty of providing the nuclear deterrent overrides the safety of the public at large.”…..

Professor Andy Stirling, a nuclear expert from the University of Sussex, warned that secrecy could hide public dangers. “The British military nuclear establishment is increasingly seeking to escape public scrutiny and democratic accountability,” he said.

“The MoD is using the trump card of security to quash reasonable questions. History shows how dangerous this state of affairs can be, and how essential it is to achieve healthy transparency.”

……… Nuclear safety risks identified in reports by the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator2014-15: five risks – shortage of engineers “the principal threat to the delivery of nuclear safety”

2013-14: eight risks – sustainability of the necessary nuclear skill set “remains fragile”

2012-13: eight risks – ageing nuclear submarines require attention “to ensure maintenance of adequate safety performance”

2011: eight risks – “lack of adequate resource to deliver the defence nuclear programmes safely”

2010: eight risks – danger of accidents “progressively worse” because of “painful” spending cutbacks

2009: nine risks – spending cuts meant that it was no longer possible to ensure that nuclear activities “remain safe”

2008: nine risks – some areas “barely resourced” to deliver nuclear safety

2007: 11 risks – “potentially significant risks” at nuclear sites across the UK

2006: 11 risks – “crew fatigue” could cause hazards during the road transport of nuclear weapons

2005: nine risks – “slow progress in implementing the regulation framework for the nuclear weapons programme” http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/16355206.trident-nuclear-safety-ratings-kept-secret-by-mod/

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July 16, 2018 - Posted by | safety, UK, weapons and war

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