Scotland: Britain’s military waste dump

Ever since the British Government started to base its nuclear submarines and their arsenal of nuclear missiles on the Clyde in the 1960s, there have been protests in Scotland against hosting weapons of mass destruction just a few miles away from the largest conurbation in the country. The British Polaris programme, the predecessor to Trident, was announced in 1962 following an agreement between the American and British governments by which the US would supply Britain with Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

The agreement stipulated that the UK’s Polaris missiles would be assigned to NATO as part of a Multilateral Force, and could be used independently only in exceptional circumstances. Essentially the UK’s much vaunted nuclear weapons programme is merely an adjunct to the American nuclear weapons programme, and as such is ultimately under the control of the Pentagon. This stipulation has carried over into the Trident programme, which replaced Polaris starting in the 1980s.

In a couple of years I will be at retirement age, and although there have been protests against the nuclear weaponry on the Clyde for my entire life, we are still no closer to ridding this curse from Scottish soil. The Labour party, especially the Labour party of the right wing Keir Starmer, is as much in thrall to the British nationalist nuclear Viagra of an impotent former empire as the Tories. While the likes of the Über-unionist Jackie not-a-nationalist Baillie wrap themselves in British flags and witter on about the supposed economic benefits that the Trident programme brings to the Upper Clyde, the reality is that Scotland’s pro-rata share of the costs of Trident amounts to £180 million every year. That money could be far better spent on investing in public services and creating well paid jobs which would bring about a lasting benefit to the local economy of the area.

Instead what we get are a handful of civilian jobs purchased at huge financial cost and incalculable environmental damage, and that’s without factoring in the devastation which would result should there be a serious nuclear accident at Faslane, where the submarines are based, or Coulport, where the nuclear warheads are stored.

Last year The Ferret reported that the number of nuclear safety incidents recorded by the Ministry of Defence at Faslane and Coulport on the Clyde had soared by a third compared to the previous year. The online investigative newspaper said that MPs had been told that the total number of “nuclear site events” at the two Trident bases had increased from 153 in 2021 to 204 in 2022. Some more serious incidents doubled in frequency, and figures for the first three months of 2023 suggested further rises. The MoD insisted that none of these incidents had resulted in injury or the release of radioactive material into the environment, but it did not provide any details of individual incidents.

The 204 incidents reported overall at the two bases in 2022 were by far the highest in four years, with a further 58 reported in January to March 2023. The number of incidents rated as category C rose from 10 in 2021 to 27 in 2022.

The MoD has previously defined category C incidents as having “moderate potential” for radioactive releases which could cause “unplanned individual exposure to radiation”. Eight category C incidents were reported for the first three months of 2023.

The MoD has historically treated Scotland as a dumping ground for unwanted weaponry and military waste. The island of Gruinard near Ullapool was out of bounds for decades after the MoD used it for military experiments with biological weapons involving a highly virulent strain of anthrax during WW2. The island was not decontaminated until 1990 but the formaldehyde solution which was sprayed on the island in order to destroy the anthrax spores itself caused massive damage to marine life in the surrounding waters as it ran off into the sea. This is far from being the only instance of the MoD treating Scotland as an expendable dumping ground.

The waters of the North Channel are contaminated by thousands of tons of unwanted ammunition, including chemical weapons, dumped there by the MoD after the First and Second World Wars. The MoD has estimated that well over a million tons of munitions have been dumped there, including 14,500 tons of artillery rockets filled with phosgene. Radioactive waste from military aircraft was dumped on Dalgety Bay in Fife, it took decades to get the MoD to admit responsibility for the contamination. Clean up is still on-going.

In 2020 it was revealed that the MoD was planning to planning to increase discharges of radioactive waste from Faslane into the Firth of Clyde by up to 50 times. The liquid waste comes from the reactors that drive the Royal Navy’s submarines and from the processing of Trident nuclear warheads. It is to be discharged from Faslane into the Gareloch via a proposed new pipeline. Dr Ian Fairlie, a radiation expert who used to advise the UK government, described the proposed increases as worrying, saying: “I do not think that the MoD has done enough work on estimating the increases in the levels of tritium and cobalt-60 in the flora and fauna of the Gareloch.”

Of course all the above are merely those incidents and damage which the notoriously secretive MoD has admitted to. The true picture is likely to be far far worse. The rising number of acknowledged incidents at Faslane and Coulport would tend to confirm the claims of Boris Johnson’s senior advisor Dominic Cummings, who recently alleged that there is top-level cover-up of the poor state of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme. Cummings claimed that in 2022 Rishi Sunak had approached him for help with the next General Election campaign, and Cummings had asked for several conditions in return.

One of these, Cummings said, was addressing the “fundamentally critical” issue of “the scandal of nuclear weapons infrastructure which is a dangerous disaster and a budget nightmare of hard-to-believe and highly classified proportions, and which has forced large secret cannibalisation of other national security budgets.”

Writing on social media Cummings said it was a “fact that our nuclear weapons infrastructure is dangerously rotting and is tens of billions secretly in the hole, with huge knock-on effects beyond its destructive effects on MoD which has got even worse”.

Following Cummings’ allegations, the SNP demanded that the British Government make an urgent statement to Parliament. No such statement has been forthcoming. The SNP has made repeated but unsuccessful attempts to secure an urgent question on Trident in the Commons. Meanwhile the Labour party looks the other way.

In a sign that nothing will change under Starmer, this weekend the Labour leader threatened to U-turn on a previous pledge to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia, He also insisted there was “no inconsistency” between his previous promise to give the Commons a say before authorising military action and his support for strikes against Houthis in Yemen.

Now new concerns have been raised about the safety of Britain’s nuclear fleet, two submarines are still in action despite them being previously forecast to have been out of commission by this year. The retirement dates of nuclear submarines are repeatedly being pushed back, leading to questions being asked about the safety of the vessels.

The UK does not protect Scotland, it treats Scotland as a dumping ground because it’s conveniently remote from the centre of power in Whitehall. Scotland gets lies, deceit , radioactive waste and exposure to to the risk of catastrophic disaster. All this is so Britain can cling to the fantasy that it is still a global influence while Scotland pays the price of British nationalist delusions of power. The Labour party will not change this dismal set of affairs, only independence can.


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