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Do We Have the Right to Know? Nuclear Convoys in Scotland

Image Credit: Nukewatch UK

On 2 May, I attended a debate at the Scottish Parliament on nuclear convoys in Scotland. While I have attended events and committees at the Scottish Parliament in various capacities, this was my first debate in the chamber. I found it to be fascinating and it was interesting to see the interactions between MSPs.

The debate was addressed the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) and its application in nuclear weapon transport. Led by Mark Ruskell MSP of the Scottish Greens, the debate centred around the lack of risk assessments by councils in convoy routes and more importantly, the lack of awareness of the public about the movement of nuclear and explosive material through their areas. It was particularly intriguing to hear that there are no specific risk assessments targeted at accidents directly resulting from the convoys. While it is true that convoys are extremely secure and accidents involving damage to the weapon, an explosion, or spread of radiological material are very low, it is not an absolute impossibility. Other accidents such as losing parts of the convoy in heavy fog, or road accidents and being unable to recover material for 18 hours, or mere human error, are incidents that are worrying and more frequent than one would expect. Local authorities would be responsible for first response and rather than relying on generic risk assessments, contingencies aimed specifically around these convoys will be necessary.

While speakers generally kept their discussions solely about the CCA, there were also several references to the rejection of Trident and the cancellation of its renewal. This only exemplifies the intricate ties of the Trident nuclear deterrent programme to various facets of both domestic and foreign affairs - it is not just an issue of intangible military strategy but a very real and very present danger for thousands of people on the convoy routes. It is worrying to hear that councils do not inform their public about convoys travelling through their communities. Two provisions of the CCA restrains local authorities on informing their publics: national security and unnecessary alarm. Both are logical conclusions around the transport of nuclear warheads; yet convoys are not secret, especially not in this age of social media and part of the “alarm” is the secrecy, an issue alleviated by openness between authorities and the public on convoys and contingency planning.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the debate, from the MSPs’ statements to the Government’s response. The multifaceted perspectives gave a comprehensive understanding around the issues of the CCA and nuclear convoys, clearly laying out a logical path forward. A point that was brought up was that contingency information is given to residents around nuclear naval bases and civil nuclear installations - why not extend this to those living along transport routes? While nuclear weapons still exist in Scotland and are transported across public roads, there is no excuse for not informing the public of potential dangers of nuclear transport and not having contingency plans in place for accidents. Increased public awareness is critical and local authorities’ participation in targeted risk assessments and education is paramount.

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