The news media got in a ferment this weekend as it turned out that officials at the UK Ministry of Defence had failed to effectively redact passages in a report on nuclear submarine safety published to the internet. But the revealed text - which had originally been classified only at a low level - is not terribly exciting.
The document in question is titled SUCCESSOR SSBN - SAFETY REGULATORS' ADVICE ON THE SELECTION OF THE PROPULSION PLANT IN SUPPORT OF THE FUTURE DETERRENT REVIEW NOTE. It was drafted in 2009 by Commodore Andrew McFarlane, the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator, and offers advice regarding the measures required to make the future national-deterrent submarines as safe "as reasonably possible" - the standard for nuclear safety.
The document was originally classified "Restricted", just one step up from "Unclas" - unclassified. After Restricted comes Confidential: only then comes "Secret", and in fact even Secret information is often rather mundane - anything really hot will usually be marked "Top Secret" (the other end of the scale from Restricted) and will generally be subject to additional rules and caveats as well.
The document was declassified altogether following requests under the Freedom of Information Act by antinuclear campaigners recently, though parts of it were redacted. However, in February it was also published on the parliamentary website, with the redacted passages left unprotected. Many media outlets have (finally, after many weeks) noted that it was possible to download the pdf file and then copy and paste the text to other applications in order to read it.
Rather more easily, one could also simply look at the searchable html version of the text generated by Google automatically as soon as the document went up in February. The pdf has now been replaced with an image version and Google is no longer linking to its html copy, but you can still read it all courtesy of Cryptome.
It's unexciting stuff. Talk of a "Fukushima style meltdown" (presumably meaning a "meltdown" in which nobody is hurt and no public health damage occurs) caused potentially by a "lone rogue sailor" is meaningless - of course a single rogue sailor can cause a serious sub accident. Sailors handle the helm and trim, sailors navigate the boat, sailors have access to things such as torpedo warheads, fuel tanks, oxygen candles, small arms.
Nuclear submarines routinely suffer accidents, collisions, groundings, fires and explosions. At least ten have been completely lost at sea with reactors and/or warheads aboard over the past 50 years. And yet the world has not come to an end.
The document also contains a passage describing US methods of reactor design in very general terms, lauding them as much safer than British practice and recommending a move toward such methods when designing the new Trident subs.
But apparently a made-up (or idiotic) senior MoD source says that "the Americans will be furious their procedures have been exposed".
Utter, barrel-scraping pigswill. Yet again, there's nothing to see here. Reportedly various other ineffectually-redacted documents have been put up here and there across the government's many websites, as one would expect. ®
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