Campaigners highlight safety risks after defence minister admits there have been 23 such flights in the last five years
Materials used in nuclear weapons have been flown between the UK and the US 23 times in the last five years, theÂ Ministry of DefenceÂ has admitted.
Though the MoD does not give details, the flights are believed to have carried tritium, plutonium and enriched uranium, all vital ingredients ofÂ TridentÂ warheads. They probably started or ended at the RAF base at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
The flights have alarmed politicians and campaign groups, who are worried about accidents causing widespread radioactive contamination. The MoD, however, insists that the transports complied with stringent safety rules.
The GuardianÂ reported on 9 FebruaryÂ that two MoD emergency exercises in 2011 and 2012 codenamed Astral Bend envisaged planes carrying nuclear materials crashing. One imagined a leak of enriched uranium and plutonium spreading up to five kilometres across south Wales.
That prompted a question about the nuclear flights in the House of Commons last week by the Scottish National partyâ€™s defence spokesman, Brendan Oâ€™Hara MP. In response, the government admitted the frequency of such flights for the first time. â€œIn the last five years, 23 flights carrying defence nuclear materials were undertaken,â€ the defence minister, Penny Mordaunt, told MPs in aÂ written answer.
â€œAll flights were between the UK and the United States on fixed-wing aircraft under the control of UK armed forces.â€ Details of the cargoes were kept secret â€œas disclosure would or would be likely to prejudice national security,â€ she said.
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