28 April 2009

Nuclear Substances leaked into the Sea again at Britain's Faslane Submarine Base in Scotland

A number of serious breaches of safety regulations, including leaking of radioactive waste, has been reported from the main submarine base of Britain's Royal Navy (RN).

In a confidential report, which had to be released under the British Freedom of Information Act, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) described safety failings at HM Naval Base Clyde at Faslane, on the Gare Loch near Glasgow (photo), as "a recurring theme".

The worst breaches include three leaks of radioactive coolant from nuclear submarines into the Firth of Clyde, which happened in 2004, 2007 and 2008 .

A spokesman for the UK MoD said: "The discharges into the Gare Loch had no environmental consequences. The MoD is a responsible nuclear operator, and we have informed the appropriate regulatory authorities. We commissioned an independent study into the facilities and practices at HM Naval Base Clyde. An improvement plan is under way to ensure modern standards and best practice at the base."

How responsible as a nuclear operator the UK MoD really is has come to light last year, when a radioactive waste plant manager at the base had to be replaced, because it emerged that he had no qualifications at all in radioactive waste management!

This is not the only case of total mismanagement under the roof of the UK MoD. For the past three centuries the armed forces of England and Britain have always - and constantly - been hampered by underfunding, wrong or bad equipment, incompetent leadership and permanent mismanagement on all levels. And the nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed Royal Navy of today is still the same barely working conglomerate of excellence and failure it was under Nelson more than two centuries ago.

The documents, which were released to Channel 4 News, show that the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) warned that it would consider closing the Faslane base if it had the power to do so.

Civil radioactive safety regulations do not apply to MoD sites, but the department has previously said it would "volunteer to uphold them at the base".

The documents also suggest that Faslane will be the UK's only nuclear submarine base by 2015. Three RN submarines currently based at Devonport in Plymouth (in the Southwest of England) are earmarked for transfer to Scotland.

From an Irish perspective the ongoing series of accidents at the Faslane base, and in particular the leaking of radioactive substances into the water, are reasons for concern. Sooner or later these substances end up in the Irish Sea, whose coastline is shared by Britain and Ireland.

In the past there have been more than enough cases of accidentally released radioactivity from British sites which then caused pollution and serious problems on the East coast of Ireland. This has to stop!

If the Royal Navy cannot keep their nuclear submarines safe, they should decommission them. In fact, there is quite a strong lobby in Britain to do exactly that.
The currently used 'Trident' system is soon due to be replaced with the next generation of submarine-based intercontinental missiles, and ever since this was first debated in the British House of Commons, there has been a growing opposition to it, with people from all political parties arguing against the replacement of 'Trident'.

18 years after the end of the 'Cold War' the world has changed completely, and Britain's potential enemies of today are not big states with nuclear weapons against whom one would need to have the option of nuclear retaliation.
Today's potential enemies are groups of low-level insurgents and irregular forces in the 'third world', people armed with nothing more than AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Against them a nuclear deterrent is neither necessary nor in any way useful.

Would the UK end her submarine-based nuclear weapons programme instead of commissioning a replacement system, it could save the British tax payer more than £ 200 billion, a vast amount of money, especially in the current times of global recession.
It is still possible that the British government might see the light and follow the advice to abolish nuclear submarines. But going by past experience, it is rather unlikely. And this means that the accidental leaking of radioactive material into the waters around these island, especially into the Irish Sea, will continue for a long time.

The Irish government, and in particular Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, should make strong representation about this in London and explain Ireland's position as clear as possible. No Irish civilian should suffer or die because Britain wants to play in the big league, but is incapable of keeping her equipment safe.

The Emerald Islander

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