The Royal Navy said there had been a “higher than usual level of chlorination” in 2019. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images The Royal Navy said there had been a “higher than usual level of chlorination” in 2019. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Trident nuclear base criticised for polluting the Clyde

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) criticised the Trident nuclear base for its “poor” environmental performance after it breached pollution rules in 2019, it has emerged.

According to investigative journalism website the Ferret, the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine base at Faslane near Helensburgh was given the assessment for 2019 because of a previously unreported pollution incident.

The website reported that the navy said this was because a “higher than usual level of chlorination” was detected in the Gareloch off Faslane. The base uses chlorine to prevent its waste discharge pipes from becoming clogged by algae, barnacles and seaweed, the Ferret said.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) accused the UK Government, which runs the Faslane base, of having a “callous disregard for Scotland’s natural environment”, while campaigners described Faslane’s poor rating as a “major alarm bell”, the website said. 

However, the Royal Navy said that this was an “isolated event” and that pollution had been low in 2020. It took its environmental responsibilities “very seriously”, it told the Ferrett.

According to the website, SEPA’s publication of its assessments for 2019 has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic and the cyber attack on SEPA’s computers on Christmas Eve 2020.

READ MORE: Access denied: SEPA's battle to restore operations in the aftermath of a crippling cyber-attack

Covid-19 also caused SEPA to abandon its entire compliance assessment scheme for 2020.

SEPA refused to comment to the Ferret on the breach until its compliance assessments of all sites were released “in due course”.

But the Royal Navy explained that the breach was because the Gareloch had been polluted with chlorine compounds at some point in the last three months of 2019. “An isolated event was reported to the SEPA,” a spokesperson for the Royal Navy told the Ferret.

“A higher than usual level of chlorination had been measured in a 2019 sample from the Gareloch. The levels have since been normal throughout 2020, are well below the levels in drinking water, and are considered not to have an adverse environmental impact.”

The SNP’s defence spokesperson, Stewart McDonald MP, told the Ferret: “After decades of promised action from the UK Government following numerous oil spills and radioactive waste dumps in the waters of the Gareloch, it is abundantly clear that the UK Government’s disregard for the environment is simply baked into their approach.”

Dr Richard Dixon, the director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, told the website that even small amounts of chlorine could harm marine wildlife. “This looks like a one-off event but the Faslane base does not seem to be able to explain why it happened,” he said.

“If you don’t understand the problem, you can’t fix it.”

A spokesperson SEPA said: “Environmental compliance is non-negotiable.”

The Royal Navy has been approached for a comment.

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