Report launch: Nukes of Hazard – The Nuclear Bomb Convoys on our Roads

September 21, 2016

The British public is being put at grave risk of a nuclear weapon accident and radiation leak according to a report published today.

The report says that serious accidents involving convoys which routinely transport nuclear weapons on British roads could contaminate communities, increase cancer risks, and disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Download the full report here:

Reports acquired from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) under freedom of information law reveal that the bomb convoy has been plagued by 180 safety incidents over the last 16 years, including 43 since 2013. Convoy vehicles have collided, broken down, overheated and suffered a series of equipment failures.

In extreme circumstances – according to an MoD report – nuclear warheads in a multiple pile-up could trigger a nuclear reaction, known as an “inadvertent yield”, and deliver lethal radiation doses.

The report warns that local authorities are unprepared to deal with convoy accidents. Councils and fire services are not told when convoys will be travelling through their areas, and sometimes the MoD may not be willing to say whether nuclear weapons are involved in accidents.

The public are also being kept in the dark over the danger, according to a new opinion poll. Two in three (64%) British adults said they did not know that nuclear weapons travel past towns and cities whilst almost half (47%) said that knowing about nuclear weapons convoys caused them concern.

The report, Nukes of Hazard: The Nuclear Bomb Convoys on our Roads, was commissioned by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons UK and written by the investigative journalist, Rob Edwards. It is based on MoD reports, responses from local authorities and fire services and an opinion poll commissioned from YouGov.

The report quotes an MoD warning that a terrorist attack on a convoy could lead to a nuclear warhead being damaged or destroyed. “The consequences of such an incident are likely to be considerable loss of life and severe disruption both to the British people’s way of life and to the UK’s ability to function effectively as a sovereign state,” said an MoD official in 2006.

Edwards argued that the risks of a nuclear convoy disaster were real, and should not be brushed aside. The nuclear weapons programme had for years been suffering from a chronic shortage of skilled engineers, which the MoD’s own internal watchdog warned could threaten safety, he pointed out.

“MoD emergency exercises envisage the convoy involved in horrific multiple pile-ups, leaking radioactivity over cities,” Edwards said. “The MoD has confessed to eight accidents involving nuclear weapons convoys between 1960 and 1991. We now also know that the convoy reported 180 safety incidents between 2000 and 2016.”

He added: “The convoy has crashed, broken down and got lost. Brakes have failed, fuel has leaked, engines have overheated. There have been many other mechanical failures. Bad luck, poor weather, human error and computer software glitches have all been blamed.”

“It is not scaremongering to suggest that accidents happen: it is common sense. It is not irrational to worry about the dangers of a nuclear convoy crash. The MoD has said it judges the risks to be “tolerable when balanced against the strategic imperative to move nuclear weapons”. Others may disagree.”

Matt Hawkins, Project Officer for ICAN-UK, said:

“Rob’s report has painted a grim picture of the great risks posed by nuclear convoys. But, there is one action the government can take that will make us all a lot safer and help us sleep easier at night: scrapping our nuclear weapons. As this report shows, they only add danger to our lives, exposing us all to the risk of radiation leaks or an attack by terrorists on one of these convoys. They’ve been kept secret from the public because the government knows just how unpopular they would be – and they were spot on if our survey is anything to go by. We urge anyone concerned or angered by the presence of these convoys to please visit our website where they can send a message to their MP asking them to sign our open letter calling for the removal of these grotesque weapons from our roads and our country.”

“This report is yet another fantastic piece of work commissioned by ICAN that will ensure we are all better informed of the dangers of nuclear weapons, in all their forms. When I first heard the MoD were moving nuclear weapons on our roads I was astonished, and many others will be likewise. It is by producing reports like this and ensuring we continue to spread this information that we will gather an even greater momentum to rid the world of nuclear weapons once and for all.” - Owen Thompson, MP for Midlothian.

Clare Short, former MP for Birmingham Ladywood and Secretary of State for International Development, said:

“The thinking in the UK about the dangers of nuclear weapons seems to have become very sleepy. But just think, if the UK needs a new weapon system because the future is uncertain, then so does every country including the most precarious, and then there would inevitably be a nuclear conflagration. And in the meantime dangerous materials are being transported on our roads. The mood is turning on other things.  It is time for us to wake up on these nuclear dangers.”

Convoys carrying nuclear weapons travel between their base in Scotland to the maintenance plant at AWE Burghfield between two and six times a year. En route they travel through or past major cities including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool, Preston, and Birmingham.

Rob Edwards’s report, published on the UN Day for Peace, modelled the potential impact of a serious road accident involving one of these convoys in five locations: Birmingham, Preston, Wetherby, Newcastle and Glasgow. It assumed a radiation leak from the convoy spreading up to 10 kilometres, depending on the weather.


In total across the five locations the report found that up to 2.8 million people could be put at risk of contamination and disruption, with up to 866 schools, 131 railway stations, 54 hospitals, and 12 universities potentially affected. Up and down the country, hundreds more communities and millions more people along convoys routes are also at risk, should there be a crash.


For information and to liaise with spokespeople contact Matt Hawkins on 07515895998


About the author:

Rob Edwards is an investigative journalist specialising in nuclear and environmental issues with more than 30 years experience. He has written for New Statesman, New Scientist, Scotland on Sunday and others. Since 1999 he has been the environment editor of the Sunday Herald and a correspondent for The Guardian. He is a founder member of the new investigative journalism platform, The Ferret, and the co-author of three books about nuclear power. He lives in Edinburgh, and has made more than 350 freedom of information requests.

About ICAN-UK (publisher):

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is an international coalition that brings together humanitarian, environmental, human rights, peace, and development organisations in nearly 100 countries, working with parliamentarians and governments to achieve a global treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination. ICAN UK is a collaborative project hosted by Medact, to support ICAN’s goals with information, analysis, advocacy, training and outreach.

All public opinion figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2063 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th – 17th August 2016.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). The full survey can be found here.

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