Devonport nuclear accident drill reveals flaws

The exercise took place at Devonport to check the readiness of a range of agencies in the face of a nuclear explosion Credit: PA

An exercise drill to prepare the south west for a nuclear disaster revealed a number of gaffes, according to a new report.

Exercise Short Sermon is held every three years to prepare officials at Devonport for an explosion aboard a nuclear submarine.

The multi-agency drill, in October 2013, played out a scenario of radioactive material being released into the atmosphere with numerous casualty. It highlighted a number of lessons to be learned.

  • "Severely flawed and wrong" instructions were given regarding the evacuation of a town
  • "Lack of understanding" into which way the plume of radiation was moving.
  • Hospital were not warned when ambulance crews brought in a "victim" suffering from radiation poisoning.
  • There was "difficult" liaison between the Government's Science and Technical Advice Cell and Cornwall Council and its eventual advice was severely flawed and wrong.
  • NHS England said they were unable to assess how the nuclear emergency would impact on health services as "there were no plans to include casualties outside the dockyard".
  • There were also issues with broadband internet paid for by NHS England, which was not "fully available" on the day
  • Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service described a "lamentable lack of information mapping or charts" at an initial meeting, with "confused" deployment of fire engines.
  • Incorrect weather information, which did not originate from the Met Office, was initially provided and "it took nearly all the exercise to get this corrected".

The report, by the Ministry of Defence, found the exercise was successful overall but in future it will be replaced by a three year training programme.