Parliament and Politics: 'Champion' urged for nuclear safety

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(First Edition)

AN INDEPENDENT 'champion' for nuclear weapons safety is one of 20 innovations proposed in the report of a working party led by the Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser published today. All 20 have been accepted. While generally 'impressed' by the standard of safety associated with individual weapons, the report says arrangements were less good for the safety of the system as a whole.

This corroborates the views of a number of pressure groups which have criticised the overall safety within the network of missiles, warheads, submarine propulsion, missile loading facilities and nuclearweapons transport.

The report also highlighted concern that with the privatisation of the Atomic Weapons Establishments, the MoD would lose expertise and become an 'unintelligent customer'.

Officials said AWE employees' contracts would be designed to ensure that they could be seconded back to the ministry if required.

Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, gave details of the report, the Safety of UK Nuclear Weapons, in a parliamentary question yesterday. The group was set up in mid-1991 to review nuclear safety in the light of the Drell Report in the US. He said the report was being published in full, apart from a small number of excisions - officials said about 5 per cent - required to preserve national security.

The working group comprised the CSA, Professor Sir Ron Oxburgh, a senior health and safety expert, a military officer with nuclear weapons experience, a retired nuclear weapons designer, an academic scientist and an expert on civil nuclear power.

The report says Trident safety levels are comparable with, and in some ways higher than, those of Polaris. It therefore sees 'no reason to suggest that Trident should not be accepted into service'.

The 'champion for nuclear safety' would have direct access to ministers and have a 'proactive' role in pushing for nuclear safety from design to disposal, Prof Oxburgh said.

Asked if the term 'champion' was not unusual, Prof Oxburgh said he had in mind the medieval king's or lady's champion. But if anybody could think of a better title, he was open to suggestions.

'Champion' urged for nuclear safety