Nuclear Submarines (Accidents)

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1989.

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Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North 12:00 am, 9th May 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the worst possible accident of a nuclear submarine in or near a British port for which his Department has emergency plans; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The nuclear accident plans of the Ministry of Defence are prepared in line with the recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection. The reference accident, on which the plans are based, envisages the release of some radioactive fission products into the atmosphere. In accordance with the ICRP recommendations, the plans are designed to be flexible enough to apply in worse accidents. In addition to that, the Royal Navy regularly exercises some of these extremely improbable accidents. The plans also consider the possibility that the submarine could sink.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North

Yes, but will the Minister confirm that the worst possible accident that could occur to a nuclear submarine in port would be a primary containment failure, which would put many civilian lives at risk? Will he also confirm that local authority emergency planning officers have never been briefed about that probability and would have, therefore, no idea how to react if such an accident occurred?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

It is probable in those circumstances that the submarine would burn and then sink. The radioactivity would be contained if the submarine sank, as water is the best substance for containing it.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight , Derby North

Is not the worst possible scenario an attack when we had a Government who were not prepared to press the firing button?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Yes, that is right. There is no point in having a nuclear deterrent unless one is prepared to use it. I am sure that the Soviet Union will have taken into account the fact that the Opposition are saying that they are not prepared to use it.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

Is the Minister aware that on Sunday 7 May 1989 a vehicle allegedly transporting radioactive materials was involved in an accident at Cleland in my constituency? Can he confirm that there was radioactive material on board that vehicle? If so, will he confirm whether the vehicle bore the appropriate markings? Will he give a categorical assurance that the lives and personal safety of my constituents were not endangered? Will he now accept the unsuitability of that particular road between the two motorways for vehicles carrying hazardous substances and order a full investigation into why it was there in the first place?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having given me notice of his supplementary question. understand that, on a journey from Derby to the naval dockyard at Rosyth on Sunday, a contractors' lorry carrying a portable cabin belonging to Rolls-Royce and associates was involved in a minor accident on the road to Cleland, Lanarkshire. The cabin was one used in the non-destructive examination of plant and equipment. Police took precautions on learning that, although there were no radioactive sources within the cabin, it carried an aluminium container and a roll of plythene properly marked with warning tapes, which both held items which were mildly contaminated with radioactivity through having been used in test procedures. Anyone would have been able to pick up and handle the items without coming to any harm. Once the lorry's load had been re-adjusted the lorry continued on its journey to Rosyth.