Does the public know about the nuclear hazard on Britain’s roads and railways?

Day and night, military convoys carrying nuclear warheads travel regularly up and down the country by road – between the nuclear warhead factory at Burghfield (near Aldermaston) in Berkshire and the Trident nuclear base at Coulport in Scotland.

The most frequently used routes for the warhead convoys are M40, M42 (west), M5, M6 and M40, M42 (north) and M6, some of the most congested motorways in the country. No radiation warning symbols are now carried (see the next post) and though neither the public nor local authorities emergency planners are warned, the police are always told when a nuclear convoy is expected.

nuclear transport protest

On Saturday one ‘clued-up’ member of the public was arrested on Thursday evening after holding up a convoy of four lorries carrying 100 kiloton nuclear warheads through Scotland. Brian Quail pressed a pelican crossing button and sat down in front of the lorries. A police spokeswoman confirmed that a 77-year-old man had been arrested and charged with breach of the peace.

William Rogerson’s verdict: He’s not disturbing the peace but disturbing the ‘war’.

nuclear police capitaThe Civil Nuclear Constabulary is a heavily-armed special police service that protects nuclear power plants, waste dumps, and nuclear material in transit.

In June 2015, Political Concern reported that Capita, which took over the Food and Environment Research Agency in March, had won a contract for the command and control centre of Britain’s heavily armed nuclear police.

The Independent reported that the ‘outsourcing giant’ – not renowned for its efficiency or cost-effectiveness, is to play a support role at the command centre of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.

Rob Edwards wrote an article in 2012 about a report from the UK government’s Health Protection Agency (HPA), commissioned by the government’s Office for Nuclear Regulation. It recorded 38 incidents in 2011 and 30 in 2010 – the second highest toll in six years, which saw a total of 195 mishaps.

Eleven of the incidents involved radioactive fuel flasks from nuclear power stations, compared with eight the previous year, often due to loose bolts, faulty valves or other defects. Other problems befell consignments of nuclear industry waste, medical isotopes and other radioactive shipments.

  • In one instance in December a train carrying nuclear fuel flasks hit a tree on the line. In November a courier van carrying radioactive packages to a nuclear site was stopped by police who discovered that the driver had been disqualified from driving.
  • In October the surfaces of three high-level radioactive waste containers shipped abroad to an unspecified country were found to be contaminated in breach of permitted limits.
  • In August 46 waste oil drums triggered radiation alarms when they left a nuclear site. According to the HPA one incident in May 2011, when a vial containing medical radioactivity broke, gave a member of staff a “potentially significant” radiation dose. A spillage of a uranium ore in June last year may also have exposed a worker to radiation.

The locations of the incidents are not disclosed in the report and no evidence of more recent monitoring of the transport of nuclear materials has been found in the public domain.

nuclear 2convoys near Loch Lomond

Peter Burt, from the Nuclear Information Service, argued that transporting radioactive materials (above, near Loch Lomond) was one of the nuclear industry’s riskiest activities. He urged safety regulators to devote more attention to ensuring that companies comply with the rules before authorising large-scale movements.

Information reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and removed from their website after the link was published in Wikipedia, shows “a persistent problem with the illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials, thefts, losses and other unauthorized activities”.  The IAEA Illicit Nuclear Trafficking Database notes 1,266 incidents reported by 99 countries over the last 12 years, including 18 incidents involving HEU or plutonium trafficking.

There is a possible health hazard and also a risk to security as there is a ready market for such goods, with the potential addition of George Osborne’s proposed small nuclear reactors which can be carried on a lorry. In Part 2 MP Paul Flynn highlights heightening of risk, due to the influence of Defence Equipment and Support Organisation – a trading entity and organisation within the MoD – over government decision makers.



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One Response to Does the public know about the nuclear hazard on Britain’s roads and railways?

  1. Pingback: Do Birmingham residents, commuters and council know about nuclear hazards on the region’s road and rail? | Our Birmingham

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