Alarm over dangerous nuclear convoys

Alarm over dangerous nuclear convoys

Published 13/1/2015  By Rob Edwards on and The National

Alarm over nuclear bomb convoy driving through Glasgow in bad weather

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been accused of a “callous disregard for public safety” after a big nuclear bomb convoy was tracked driving through Glasgow and across the Erskine Bridge in appalling weather conditions on Sunday night.

The 20-vehicle convoy, including four high-sided heavy-duty weapons carriers, a fire engine, armoured personnel carriers and MoD police guards, arrived at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport on Loch Long around 1am on Monday morning.

Though it’s meant to be top secret, it was watched and followed for most of its journey by anti-nuclear campaigners. It left the nuclear weapons factory at Burghfield in Berkshire at 9am on Sunday and used the M4, M40 and M6 to get to Scotland, and was filmed en route.

Between 11.35 and 11.55 on Sunday night the convoy was on the M74 and M8 going through Glasgow. It then crossed the Erskine Bridge despite illuminated warnings of “high winds” on the approach roads.

According to Traffic Scotland, drivers have been urged to use caution on the bridge since 9 January because of poor weather. Other bridges in Scotland have periodically been closed to high-sided vehicles because they could be toppled by strong gusts.

The SNP’s defence spokesman and Westminster leader, Angus Robertson MP, was shocked. “This is hard to believe,” he said. “While Scotland was being battered with gale force winds and truly awful weather, a nuclear convoy went through the heart of Scotland’s biggest city and over the Erskine Bridge.”

He added: “The SNP has always condemned the practice of these convoys as they pose a major risk. But in these conditions it is totally unacceptable and utterly chilling.”

The SNP MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, Sandra White, is planning to ask about the safety of the convoy in the Scottish Parliament. “I’m frightened for the people of Glasgow,” she told The National.

The Sunday Herald revealed in August that nuclear convoys in Scotland and across the UK carrying bombs and radioactive materials had suffered 70 safety lapses between July 2007 and December 2012. These included breakdowns, fuel leaks, overheated brakes and malfunctioning alarms.

According to an incident log released by the MoD under freedom of information law, convoys have also gone the wrong way, been delayed, diverted and lost communications. The MoD has to regularly move Trident nuclear weapons between Burghfield and Coulport because the warheads require maintenance.

Up to six shipments a year are made, with two observed going through Glasgow last year on 29 January and 11 July. The latest convoy now at Coulport would normally be expected to return south within a few days, though there are poor weather warnings for Glasgow until Friday.

“The MoD has shown a callous disregard for public safety by driving nuclear weapons through the centre of Glasgow and over Erskine Bridge while Scotland was being battered by gale force winds,” said John Ainslie, coordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, who followed the convoy through the city.

It was “madness” to take nuclear bombs through Scotland’s biggest city, he argued. “In recent years these deadly convoys have suffered from a series of mechanical breakdowns and mishaps,” he said.

“It is only by luck that we have avoided a nuclear accident. There is no safe way to transport nuclear weapons, but moving them by road in the middle of winter is particularly dangerous.”

The MoD pointed out, however, that neither Traffic Scotland nor Police Scotland had put restrictions on the use of the Erskine Bridge, which was open to traffic. The convoys were accompanied at all time by MoD police, but “for obvious reasons”, the MoD didn’t comment on details.

“The safety of the public is always our priority and we can be clear that convoys are conducted to the strictest safety standards,” said an MoD spokeswoman. “We always take into account factors such as road and weather conditions and consult with all relevant local agencies, including Traffic Scotland and Police Scotland.”

Assistant chief constable, Bernard Higgins, told The National: “Police Scotland and the MoD work closely with regard to convoys and great care is taken when planning any operation.”