By Bob Duncan
Devonport has been ruled out as an alternative home for Trident submarines, raising questions over the future of the nuclear fleet and its proposed replacement if Scotland votes for independence in 2014.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has revealed that the safety arrangements for Devonport do not permit the presence of submarines carrying Trident nuclear warheads and that the MoD’s safety experts are not considering altering those safety clearances.
According to the MoD, “Neither the Devonport naval base nor the Devonport dockyard safety case permit the berthing of an armed Vanguard class submarine”.
The dockyard is in a densely populated area and, if there were an accident, thousands of people would be at risk of death from the blast and subsequent radiation. The worst accident scenario envisaged by the MoD would kill up to 11,000 people in Plymouth and would not meet the official criteria for what is acceptable risk to life, according to a new report.
The MoD calculates there are about 166,000 people living within five kilometres of the Devonport base, compared with about 5,200 within that distance of Faslane.
However, the Faslane base is less than 40 Kilimeters from central Glasgow, and only around 60 Kilometers away from half the population of Scotland – over 2.5 million people.
In assessing the dangers in 2000 of a major accident at Faslane’s shiplift, which has only a partial safety certificate, the MoD concluded that the “societal contamination” that could result meant that “the risks are close to the tolerability criterion level“. [our emphasis]
A report produced by Scottish CND at the time stated: Taking account of the fact that an accident could happen not just at Faslane, but anywhere frequented by nuclear submarines, it is clear that the whole of Scotland is at risk.”
The report concluded: “The hazards from nuclear submarines are so great that the only way in which to protect the public from the hazard is to remove it.”
The Scottish government has said it would eject nuclear weapons from the Faslane submarine base on the Clyde as soon as possible after Scotland becomes independent.
In 2012, in written evidence to a Commons defence committee, Scottish CND concluded:
“There are no practical alternative locations for Trident. As a result, if the government of an independent Scotland maintained a stance of refusing to host nuclear weapons, then Britain would effectively cease to be a nuclear-weapon state.
“If Britain abandoned its nuclear arsenal this would improve the prospects for global nuclear disarmament and reduce the risks of nuclear proliferation.”
The MoD insists that the UK government was making no plans for independence, as it was confident that Scotland would not vote to leave the UK.
“We are therefore not making plans to move the nuclear deterrent from HM Naval Base Clyde, which supports 6,700 jobs, and where all of our submarines will be based from 2017,” said an MoD spokesman.
“The government is committed to maintaining a continuous submarine-based nuclear deterrent and has begun the work of replacing our existing submarines.”