Nuclear convoy disaster exercise reveals weaknesses in emergency response

Internal report highlights five-hour wait for weapons experts and confusion over radiation monitoring

An emergency exercise has exposed serious weaknesses in Britain’s ability to cope with a catastrophic motorway pileup in which a nuclear bomb convoy burns and spreads a cloud of radioactive contamination over nearby communities.

An internal report released by the Ministry of Defence reveals that the emergency services faced “major difficulties” in responding to the mocked-up accident near Glasgow because they had no help from MoD weapons experts for more than five hours.

At times the response, which involved 21 agencies, was disorganised, the report says. Heated disputes with ambulance staff over how to handle casualties contaminated with radioactivity at the crash site caused “considerable delay”, resulting in one victim being declared dead.

Other problems included outdated, paper-based communications systems, poor mobile phone signals, conflicting scientific advice on health hazards and confusion over radiation monitoring.

Nuclear weapons are transported in heavily guarded road convoys up to six times a year between bomb factories at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire and the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport on Loch Long in Argyll. The trips are needed to ensure that Britain’s stockpile of about 200 Trident missile warheads is properly maintained.

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