The network Nukewatch concluded that Scotland is not ready for the event of a serious accident involving a nuclear weapons convoy on its roads when recently launching the ‘Unready Scotland’ report.
The launch was co-hosted by Nukewatch and UN House Scotland in late September. Authors David Mackenzie and Jane Tallents went through their findings which, after discussions with all Local Authorities, Scottish Government Ministers and civil society groups, was finalised in June.
The two Nukewatch representatives first reminded the audience of the long distance convoys carrying nuclear weapons must cross when transporting materials from their assembly points in Aldermaston and Burghfield until they reach Coulport. These journeys last for two days or longer. Even though the nuclear materials carried by these convoys are not ready to explode, they are surrounded by explosives. Had they not been the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), these items would never be allowed in any other vehicles on the road.
The pair then turned their attention to The Civil Contingency Act 2004, which obliges local authorities to be aware of potential threats to public safety as well as to make risk assessment and inform the public about these potential threats. In order to check how seriously local authorities are taking this obligation, Nukewatch collaborated with Mark Ruskell MSP, who in the autumn of 2016 surveyed the 15 local authorities in Scotland which are on the convoy route. The questions being asked were - in short - whether the councils had conducted any assessment of the risks to council residents associated with the transport of nuclear weapons convoys and how they have informed the public about this. The answers were, in the main, ‘No’ and ‘We have not’.
At the same time, it was noted at the Launch that there is little help to hope for from the MoD when it comes to public safety in the case of a serious accident involving nuclear weapons convoys. The priority of MoD is the weapons, while it claims that what would happen to the public is the concern of the local authorities. However, the local authorities claim public safety during convoy movement is the responsibility of the MoD.
In its Local Authority and Emergency Services Information (LAESI) document, the MoD has said that, in the case of an accident, the police would have to evacuate everyone within 600 metres of the place of the accident. However, Nukewatch underlined that it is not known where people would be evacuated to. According to the LAESI document people in an area up to 5 km within the place of the accident, need to take shelter. The Launch organisers reminded the audience that this means that even people in Morningside and Murrayfield would have to evacuate if there was an accident on the Edinburgh City Bypass.
Nukewatch sent the ‘Unready Scotland’ draft report to the Scottish Government earlier this year but received a response stating that the Government could not review it. The network’s representatives said that this might be a misunderstanding and have therefore sent a new letter to the Scottish Government explaining possible misunderstandings. Thus, they still hope that the Scottish Government might be able to review the report.
Towards the end of the Launch, Nukewatch emphasised the enormous consequences of a nuclear weapons convoy accident. The network argued that the security of these convoys cannot rely on secrecy, stating that ‘If you cannot do it safely, do not do it’.
Mr Mackenzie made a final remark which he sees as a hope of the Scottish Government taking more action against the nuclear weapons convoys in the future. He reminded the audience that the Scottish Government recently has acted like an independent country by visiting other national leaders and supporting Catalonia’s call for independence. Thus, it has been active on some matters reserved to the UK Government and can therefore potentially raise its voice on other reserved matters as well, such as the issue of nuclear weapons convoys. If there is political will, much can be done.