Coulport nuclear weapons store to remain exempt from scrutiny by government nuclear watchdog

New arrangements for private sector management of work at the Coulport nuclear weapons store in Scotland will not require the site to be licensed under the regulatory regime for the nuclear sector, according to the Office for Nuclear Regulation.

Instead, the site will remain under the internal control of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), with nuclear operations authorised by the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR).

The Coulport base – part of HM Naval Base Clyde, where the UK’s Trident nuclear submarines are based – undertakes maintenance work on elements of the Trident Strategic Weapon System.  In January 2013 the Ministry of Defence transferred Strategic Weapon System support work from Royal Navy and MoD civilian personnel to private sector contractors.  A fifteen year contract for the work was awarded to the ABL Alliance – an industrial consortium consisting of AWE, Babcock, and Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems.   

Following its privatisation in the 1990s, the Atomic Weapons Establishment was no longer able to claim crown exemption from the Nuclear Installations Act, and its sites came under the regulatory control of the Health and Safety Executive’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (now the ONR) in 1997.  However, following a visit to Coulport in November 2012, ONR concluded that despite the outsourcing arrangements, overall control and responsibility for the site remains with the Ministry of Defence through the Naval Base Commander (Clyde).  Coulport therefore remains exempt from the Nuclear Installations Act and will remain outside ONR’s regulatory control.

ONR has said it will continue to monitor the situation at Coulport and a further inspection to examine implementation of the new arrangements will take place later this year.

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