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MOD still in panic about where to put Trident

A report in the Sunday Express shows that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) are still in a panic about what to do with Trident if Scotland becomes independent. The paper reports that officials visited Gibraltar in January to investigate whether it was feasible to base Trident on the territory. The article suggests that it might be easier to base the submarines there than at any site in England or Wales. However, the nuclear safety implications would be insurmountable. It remains the case that if Scotland ejects Trident then the UK will probably have to give up its Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Nuclear submarines do visit Gibraltar but normally only for a few days. Between 2001 and 2013 there were 19 visits by Royal Navy submarines and a similar number of visits by American submarines. (source) There was a recorded visit by a British Trident submarine to Gibraltar in November 1998. Basing Trident on the territory would be very different matter as it would require the construction of massive facilities to repair and support submarines and to handle nuclear missiles and warheads.

The Trident storage site at Coulport has 4 key facilities which are spaced between 400 and 700 metres apart, to minimise the effect of an explosion. It would be impossible to replicate this within Gibraltar. 

MOD safety plans focus on the effects of a nuclear accident on those living within 2 kilometres of a base, will limited consideration of those within 10 kilometres. The Explosives Handling Jetty at Coulport is 3 kilometres from the nearest villages of Garelochhead and Ardentinny. The beths and shiplift at Faslane are 2 kilometres from Garelochhead. If equivalent facilites were built in Gibraltar all of the 30,000 residents, plus visiting tourists, would be within 2 kilometers of the nuclear missiles. 

In addition there are 65,000 people living between 2 and 6 kilometres away in the Spanish town of La Linea de la Conception, plus 116,000 living between 6 and 10 kilometres away in the Spanish city of Algeciras.  Spain is a non-nuclear member of NATO and continues to pursue its claim of sovereignty over Gibraltar. No Spanish government could acquiesce to Gibraltar becoming a nuclear base.

In 2000/2001 the nuclear-powered conventional-armed submarine HMS Tireless spent a year in Gibraltar following a nuclear reactor incident. This was very controversial. The British government was criticised, not just by Madrid, but by the local administration in Gibraltar who commissioned independent studies into the safety of the reactor repair work. Trident could only be based in Gibraltar if the MOD threw out it's nuclear safety guidebook. Although patriotically British, the response of the people of Gibraltar to the repair of Tireless shows that they would not accept any lowering of safety standards.

Gibraltar is an entirely unsuitable place to build a nuclear submarine base and nuclear-weapons's depot. If the story in the Express is correct then it shows how desperate the MOD have become over the issue of Trident and Scottish independence. With the polls showing that the people of Scotland are likely to return a large slate of SNP MPs to Westminster, the Admirals will be concerned that Scottish independence has not disappeared of the agenda. The realilty is that the only obvious answer to the question of what to do with Trident is that it would have to be scrapped if it can't stay on the Clyde.

Scottish CND's report "No Place for Trident: Scottish Independence and Nuclear Disarmament" provides a detailed analysis of the problems of relocating Trident.