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Polaris missile handling incident

leftDeclassified reports of a missile handling incident at Coulport in 1987 reveal that there were serious concerns about the safety of a crane which was used to move Polaris nuclear missiles.  This was reported by Rob Edwards,

Rob Edwards has revealed that there were serious safety issues behind two nuclear weapons incidents in 1984 and 1987.  During the earlier incident a WE177 nuclear bomb fell of a trolley at RAF Bruggen in Germany and was damaged.

On 3 December 1987 the Polaris submarine was at the jetty in Coulport on Loch Long.  Test showed that there was a problem with one of the missiles.  The Captain urgently wanted to swap it for another missile.  When the replacement missile was being handled on the jetty the crane malfunctioned.  The missile was hoisted into the air when it should not have been.  Bolts securing the missile to a trolley sheered and the missile hit the trailer supports.

board of inquiry into this incident found serious problems.  "The Board were very concerned about the condition and maintenance records of the 40 ton crane used for the operation.  It was established early in the enquiry that major safety features were inoperative."  A "dead man's handle" that should immobilise the crane if the driver was incapacitated did not work.  A key safety indicator was also inoperative.  The board said "The crane being used has suffered a long history of unreliability".  There were problems when the power supply varied and the joystick control in the crane did not work properly.

Years earlier there was a near miss when the crane driver at the US floating base on the Holy Loch dropped a Polaris missile causing it to strike the side of the support ship.

Today Coulport handles Trident nuclear missiles.  These are offloaded in the Explosives Handling Jetty (below)

Coulport EHJ

There are 16 large bunkers (below) in Coulport which were designed for storing Trident missiles.  Normally only one or two missiles are kept on shore.  Most of them remain on the submarines.

Coulport missile bunkers

The risks of a nuclear accident involving Trident missiles and submarines was outlined in a Scottish CND report on the Safety of Trident.

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