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UK’s Ministry of Defence keeping seret most of the unsatisfactor report on safety of nuclear bomb sites

REVEALED: Nuclear bomb sites hit by fire safety problems and staff shortages, The National, By Rob Edwards 5 Dec 20,    NUCLEAR bomb sites across the UK have fire safety problems as well as shortages of safety regulators and engineers, according to a new report from the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

But most of the MoD’s latest internal assessment of the safety of nuclear weapons has been kept secret for “national security” reasons – prompting fury from politicians and campaigners. They have attacked the nuclear secrecy as “deeply alarming” and “completely unacceptable”. The official attitude to nuclear safety was a “disgrace”, they said.

Previous nuclear safety assessments, revealed by The Ferret, have highlighted “regulatory risks” 86 times. Many involved the Trident warheads and nuclear submarines based on the Clyde.

The new MoD report also disclosed “significant weaknesses” on safety at non-nuclear sites. These included “serious deficiencies” on fire safety and “significant risk” from old fuel facilities – particularly on the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.

The MoD accepted that there were “infrastructure issues”, but insisted that they were being addressed. Defence nuclear programmes were “fully accountable” to UK ministers, it said.

The MoD has posted online the 2019-20 report from the Defence Safety Authority, which brings together seven regulators, a safety team and an accident investigation unit operating within the MoD. They are overseen by the authority’s director general, air marshal Sue Gray.

But the report said that the entire section from the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR), which is responsible for ensuring safety of the nuclear weapons programme, has been “marked SECRET” and given only “limited distribution”.

The MoD has previously released 10 annual DNSR reports following a challenge under freedom of information law in 2010. They flagged up risks of accidents, ageing submarine reactors, spending cuts and much else.

But in 2017 the MoD abruptly ceased publishing the reports, insisting that they had to be kept under wraps to protect national security. In 2019 that decision was challenged by campaigners at a UK information tribunal, whose verdict is still awaited.

he latest safety authority report, however, does contain a few details of nuclear risks buried in its 80 pages. It doesn’t specify which bases were affected, but they are likely to include the two major nuclear weapons sites, at Faslane on the Clyde and at Aldermaston in Berkshire.

In a discussion of problems with “fire safety assurance” across all MoD sites, the report said: “Particular issues have been noted at defence nuclear sites, where discussions continue between defence and statutory regulators.”

Between April 2019 and March 2020 as many as 374 fires were reported on all MoD sites. Although there had been some improvements “there is still more to do to reinforce the capability of defence to manage fire safety,” the report said.

A section on the “maturity” of the DNSR as a nuclear safety regulator disclosed that it was facing an 11 per cent shortage of staff in 2020-21. Shortfalls had been mitigated by the secondment of two senior staff from the UK Government’s nuclear power watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, and from the nuclear weapons company, AWE.

This had been supplemented by “making full use of partial retirees, graduate placements and development posts during 2019-20,” the report said. But these stopgap measures were failing………………

The Scottish National Party expressed concern about “a pattern of failure” on MoD safety. “Worryingly, the findings of this report reflect significant non-compliance with security and safety regulations at sensitive sites, including those where there are nuclear materials,” said the party’s defence spokesperson, Stewart McDonald MP.

“Not only is nuclear power and weaponry not safe, it is expensive, and not being handled properly under this Tory Government’s watch. The UK Government needs to transition away from nuclear entirely.”

MCDONALD described the nuclear safety failures as “alarming” and accused the MoD of “a lack of regard for public safety and transparency”. He pointed out that the UK Government’s civil nuclear watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, had criticised MoD secrecy.

The Scottish Green MSP for the west of Scotland, Ross Greer, called for nuclear weapons to be completely scrapped. “It is deeply alarming that the MoD continues to shroud so much secrecy over the safety issues with Britain’s weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

“We’ve known for years of significant issues at sites like Faslane and on the submarines themselves, so continued attempts to hold information back from the public are totally out of order.”

Lynn Jamieson, chair of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: “The MoD’s tolerance of unsafe regimes is a disgrace for an organisation supposedly overseeing our protection. This adds to the urgency of nuclear disarmament.”

According to the Ministry of Defence, the annual assurance report and recommendations were currently being reviewed. Information that “could compromise national security” would not be published, the MoD said.,,,,,,,,,,,,

December 7, 2020 - Posted by | safety, secrets,lies and civil liberties, UK, weapons and war

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