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23 Feb, 2017 15:06

‘Nuke accidents inevitable, public always at risk’

‘Nuke accidents inevitable, public always at risk’

Whenever nuclear weapons are deployed, humans are in danger, as mishaps are inevitable when dealing with sophisticated systems with different elements that must interoperate perfectly, says the British American Security Information Council’s Paul Ingram.

On Wednesday, the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), an independent nuclear watchdog, revealed that over a hundred accidents had occurred in the UK’s nuclear program over its 65-year history, showing how close the world has come to disaster. The report also says that 116 British nuclear workers have died from accidents and cancer caused by radioactive contamination.

In responding, the British Ministry of Defence claimed that there hasn’t been an accident that has posed a threat of radiation exposure to the public or the environment in over 50 years. The report’s authors accuse the MoD of trying to downplay the seriousness of the incidents, however.

RT: It all sounds very alarming. How dangerous is all this? Are we talking about potential mass death and destruction, or mainly technical errors here?

Paul Ingram: To be honest, mostly the technical errors. There have been one or two big possibilities, but mostly it is a little bit of here and there, but significant risks of radiation exposure to the general public.

RT: Are there enough warnings to say that there is an accident waiting to happen?

PI: Yes, there is always an accident waiting to happen. In fact, the report authors concluded, and I would agree, that accidents are inevitable when you are dealing with very sophisticated systems here – systems that inevitably involve a number of different dimensions having to operate perfectly in order for the system to deliver the end result perfectly. If there is ever any shift or problems, then there is a chain reaction. It could be human, or it could be technical. And, in the end, that means the public is inevitably at risk whenever nuclear weapons are deployed.

RT: The public is at risk and workers will always be at risk? There are a lot of deaths in, for instance, the construction industry, aren’t there?

PI: Sure. Whenever there is anything that involves risk and scale, there is inevitably going to be accidents. It is important, as well, to put another rider to this: there have never been any accidents involving UK nuclear weapons that have been nearly as serious as many of the well-documented accidents that are far larger – US and Soviet nuclear missile systems.

RT: Isn’t it true that the UK’s system is dependent on US satellites and that there is a lot of US technology involved in the British system?

PI: Absolutely. The missile misfire that was referred to back in the summer was almost certainly – we don’t know because the government has been very protective with the information – but we believe that was an American problem, because it was an American missile that was being fired, and the telemetry data from that missile was almost certainly a problem to do with American components and American technology.

RT: Are these sorts of reports helpful? Don’t they make Britain look a little bit vulnerable, not as safe as it should be in terms of nuclear weaponry?

PI: This type of reporting is helpful because, if we’re going to have an open public debate, we need open information. A public debate is a really crucial for an informed decision on these issues. We need to have open debates in Russia, in the US, in the UK, because, in the end, these systems are highly dangerous. If we’re keeping them in the quiet, then politicians will get up and spout all sorts of rubbish. In the end, these decisions need to be taken with the public in mind.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.