Is Lancashire ‘at risk of nuclear contamination’?

Campaigners say the movement of nuclear weapons around the country could put thousands at risk.
Campaigners say the movement of nuclear weapons around the country could put thousands at risk.
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Nuclear convoys carrying warheads routinely drive on the M6. If one crashed, or was attacked by terrorists, more than 260,000 people could be in danger of contamination, according to a new report.

Nuclear bomb convoys on the M6 are putting more than a quarter of a million people at risk from radioactive contamination in Lancashire, according to a report by campaigners.

Is our region at risk of nuclear contamination?

Is our region at risk of nuclear contamination?

Anti-nuclear campaigners warn 165 schools, seven hospitals and four railway stations could all be affected if transporters carrying Trident warheads crashed along the route through the county.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons UK, which compiled the report, is demanding an end to the road convoys which routinely pass close to the city en route from the South of England to Scotland.

It claims an accident or an explosion could pose a serious threat to people in a 10-kilometre radius.

That puts Fylde coast towns and villages including Pilling, Garstang, Great Eccleston, Elswick, Inskip, Wharles, Treales, Newton, and Clifton, within the radius.

There is a fully-prepared and well-tested major incident plan for the whole of Lancashire which is co-ordinated by Lancashire County Council in partnership with Lancashire Constabulary, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and all Lancashire-based councils.

“Yet most of the millions of people in the communities they pass by are unaware of what’s happening - and the risks they could be facing,” said the report’s author Rob Edwards.

The “Nukes of Hazard” reveals that the Ministry of Defence has confirmed there were eight accidents involving nuclear weapons convoys between 1960 and 1991.

But, following Freedom of Information requests, the MoD has now revealed a further 180 “safety incidents” have happened between 2000 and 2016. The report says convoys have crashed, broken down, got lost and have suffered brake failure and other mechanical problems.

“A terrorist attack on a nuclear convoy, according to the MoD, could cause considerable loss of life and severe disruption both to the British people’s way of life and to the UK’s ability to function effectively as a sovereign state.
“ Convoy accidents could spread radioactive contamination over at least 10 kilometres, depending on the direction of the winds.

“Hundreds of thousands of people could find their lives seriously disrupted as communities are evacuated, essential infrastructure disabled and emergency services overwhelmed.

“Contamination and worries about cancer would linger for decades.”

While there are no recorded incidents involving the convoys passing through Lancashire, the report estimates as many as 265,959 people in the Preston area could be affected if one happened on the M6 near Ribbleton and Deepdale.

Responding to claims that emergency services across the UK were not adequately prepared to deal with a major incident, an MoD spokesman said: “The transport of defence nuclear material is carried out to the highest standard in accordance with stringent safety regulations.

“In over 50 years of transporting defence nuclear in the UK, there has never been an incident that has posed any radiation hazard to the public or to the environment.

“The transportation of defence nuclear material is kept to the minimum required to support operational requirements.”

Preston Council was quoted as saying it was given no warnings of convoy movements past the city and had “no plans to respond to any radiation leak from a nuclear weapons convoy,” explaining it did not have the assets to deal with such an incident.

A spokesman told The Gazette: “Preston City Council does not have a specific emergency planning role for this type of situation. 
“Hence the response we gave.

“However, there is a fully-prepared and well-tested major incident plan for the whole of Lancashire which is co-ordinated by Lancashire County Council in partnership with Lancashire Constabulary, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and all Lancashire-based councils.”

The campaign group Nukewatch says the 20-vehicle convoys, made up of huge dark green trucks accompanied by military Land Rovers and police, carry warheads from a bomb factory at Berkshire to the Royal Navy armaments depot near Glasgow.

The 900-mile round trip is carried out between two and six times a year and has two routes, one via Leeds and Newcastle and the other past Birmingham and Preston heading north to Glasgow.

Components for the

warheads are made at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston in Berkshire. From there they are transferred to nearby AWE Burghfield to be assembled, before making the long road journey north to Coulport on Loch Long, north of Glasgow.

At Loch Long the carriers are unloaded and the warheads placed in underground bunkers.

When needed they are moved to the explosive handling jetty at Coulport and fitted into the Trident submarines.

Nukewatch says that the frequency of the convoys varies from year to year.

In 2016, up to September, the group claims there have been six loaded convoys travelling to Scotland, although there is no record of how many of those went past Preston on the M6.