Fears voiced over safety of nuclear convoys through Borders

A nuclear convoy travelling along the Edinburgh city bypass en route to Midlothian
A nuclear convoy travelling along the Edinburgh city bypass en route to Midlothian

Concerns have been raised about the readiness of council staff to deal with any potential accidents affecting nuclear warheads being transported through the Borders.

Such convoys routinely go through the region carrying nuclear warheads from England to the nuclear submarine based at Faslane on the Clyde, but Scottish Borders Council is unprepared to tackle any possible emergencies that might befall them, according to Green Party Mid Scotland and Fife list MSP Mark Ruskell.

He has asked local authorities including Scottish Borders Council whether they have completed risk assessments but was told they hadn’t.

“The answer was none, nor had any council communicated with the public about the potential threat,” he said during a debate at Holyrood.

“Councils are clearly breaching the responsibilities that they have to assess risk, plan and inform.

“Several of the surveyed councils did not even seem to be aware that they had convoys running through their areas.

“If councils are relying on generic risk assessments produced by resilience partnerships, it is concerning.

“Convoys pose a unique set of risks because they contain explosives and nuclear material travelling together.

“If councils are relying instead on the Ministry of Defence for risk assessment, again that should concern us.

“Even if those assessments exist, they are not available to councils, and the MoD has no role beyond dealing with containment at a convoy incident site.”

Scottish Borders Council has since confirmed that it still has not carried out any risk assessments on the potential for incidents affecting nuclear convoys in transit through the region.

A council spokesperson said: “Scottish Borders Council fully complies with the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act and, as a category-one responder, works closely with partner agencies to identify risks, create response plans and warn and inform the public of the risks identified where possible.”

South Scotland Labour list MSP Claudia Beamish said: “My colleague Mark Ruskell highlighted that generic risk assessments are relied upon by local authorities and information on managing hazards is only provided to the public near the Clyde naval base but not to residents living near the route.

“Military and civilian partnerships have to be well interlinked to ensure our emergency services and local authorities can respond to any accidents, yet it appears there is not a joined-up strategic plan and that they may not even be informed when a convoy is travelling.  

“The UK’s defence policy is reserved to Westminster and the immediate handling of an incident falls to the Ministry of Defence.

“However, the wider response involves our local services, and we need to be sure they are equipped to deal with any accidents, including informing the public if there was to be such an incident.

“While this is not likely, it is ill advised for there not to be a robust strategy in place.  

“I have therefore called on the Scottish Government to consider an open review of the preparedness of Scottish civil authorities to deal with serious nuclear weapons convoy incidents.”

Speaking during the Holyrood debate, Rutherglen MSP Clare Haughey said that between 2013 and 2016, 43 safety incidents were reported to the MoD.

She highlighted an incident in 2007 of several vehicles in a convoy getting lost in severe fog near Stirling.

She also cited an incident in 1987 when two vans, each containing two nuclear warheads, slid off a road due to ice and got stuck for 18 hours.