New Whistleblower Claims UK's Nuclear Submarine Fleet A 'Disaster Waiting To Happen'

from the inspiring-others dept

There were, of course, many whistleblowers before Edward Snowden. But it is undeniable that his sudden appearance across the world's news outlets two years ago has ignited a debate about the role, rights and responsibilities of whistleblowers. One manifestation of this new interest is the creation of the Courage Foundation, dedicated to helping them:

The Courage Foundation is an international organisation that supports those who risk life or liberty to make significant contributions to the historical record. We fundraise for the legal and public defence of specific individuals who fit these criteria and are subject to serious prosecution or persecution. We also campaign for the protection of truthtellers and the public's right to know generally.
Currently the Courage Foundation is supporting two whistleblowers: Edward Snowden and Jeremy Hammond. So news that it has set up an emergency fund to help a new, and hitherto unknown, whistleblower, is significant. Here's the background:
Able Seaman William McNeilly is a 25-year-old British Engineering Technician Weapons Engineer Submariner who has blown the whistle on major safety risks and cover-ups within the British Royal Navy's Trident nuclear weapons programme, stating, "We are so close to a nuclear disaster it is shocking, and yet everybody is accepting the risk to the public."
Here are some of his claims:
Among the most startling of McNeilly’s revelations include the fact that three missile launch tests failed, missile safety alarms were ignored, torpedo compartments were flooded and bags were not properly checked for security risks. He also claims that [UK nuclear submarine] HMS Vanguard crashed into a French submarine in February 2009. McNeilly says there was a "massive cover up of the incident. For the first time the no personal electronic devices with a camera rule was enforced." At the time, the Guardian reported that "the Ministry of Defence initially refused to confirm the incident" and that Vanguard suffered mere "scrapes", but McNeilly says one officer told him, "We thought, this is it -- we’re all going to die."
You can read the long and detailed document written by McNeilly on a dedicated Wikileaks page. It includes a comment attributed to him that may sound familiar:
"Please make sure this information is released. I don't want to be in prison without anyone knowing the truth."
That's pretty much what Snowden said when he went public. Although there's no evidence that McNeilly was inspired by Snowden, it would have been hard for him to avoid the huge publicity around the leaks over the last two years. It would be interesting to know whether that played any part in his decision to publish his statement. Unfortunately, unlike Snowden still ensconced in his Russian exile, it looks almost certain that McNeilly will indeed be going to prison:
A Royal Navy spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that AB McNeilly was apprehended last night and is now in the custody of the Royal Navy police at a military establishment in Scotland where he is being afforded the duty of care that we give to all of our people.
The spokesperson went on to say:
“The Royal Navy disagrees with McNeilly’s subjective and unsubstantiated personal views but we take the operation of our submarines and the safety of our personnel extremely seriously and so continue to fully investigate the circumstances of this issue.”
As that makes clear, the UK authorities are trying to play down McNeilly's serious allegations as "subjective and unsubstantiated personal views" in the hope that public interest in the story will wane. But his decision to publish the claims and accept the consequences -- like Snowden -- looks as if it will bring about some scrutiny, not least because UK politicians have taken up his cause alongside the Courage Foundation, which is helping him with his defense costs. That's key, since it may encourage yet more whistleblowers to come forward hoping to achieve the same result.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2015 @ 2:05pm

    Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

    While the claims may be valid they would NOT result in a nuclear disaster such as a detonation. Even a crack in the material casing resulting in a radiation leak is far-fetched.

    If there really are problems they are either administrative or mechanical, and the chain of command will take action. How fast is another story.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 20 May 2015 @ 2:23pm

      Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

      Exactly. It may make for a good movie plot, but the fact of the matter is, nuclear devices, both of the "reactor" and "warhead" variety, are deliberately engineered to make a mushroom cloud showing up by accident virtually impossible.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Hephaestus (profile), 20 May 2015 @ 2:36pm

        Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

        both of the "reactor" and "warhead" variety, are deliberately engineered to make a mushroom cloud showing up by accident virtually impossible.

        Who needs a mushroom cloud ...

        Three Mile Island

        Chernobyl

        Fukushima

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          -- Logan --, 20 May 2015 @ 3:26pm

          Re: Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

          Be fair. Three Mile Island doesn't belong in that list at all. The amount of radiation released was negligible to someone standing at the power plant's fence. Nothing like what Chernobyl caused.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Hephaestus (profile), 20 May 2015 @ 6:19pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

            Be fair. Three Mile Island doesn't belong in that list at all

            So sadly mistaken. 14 years to clean up, and you think it does not belong on the list?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2015 @ 12:58pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

              The comparison is still not valid with respect to potential casualties caused by release of radioactivity. The release from Three Mile Island, while contested, was still insufficient to cause permanent evacuation of nearby areas, while the areas around Chernobyl and Fukushima could be unusable for decades, and perhaps longer.

              As for 14 years, most of that was for removal of nuclear fuel, which is a comparable, or even less, than the time it takes to remove fuel from other reactors that did not have a breech. Furthermore, the cleanup was limited to the reactor building and the area immediate to the reactor building, and not to areas surrounding the facility.

              The time frame is irrelevant to magnitude or severity.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2015 @ 3:01pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

                The comparison is still not valid with respect to potential casualties caused by release of radioactivity.

                You're saying all this as though a nuclear incident of severity comparable to Three Mile Island is not important. Again, I hope nobody actually in charge of any sort of nuclear operations thinks that way. Even the smallest nuclear accident is something to be studiously avoided. "Nobody died" or "the evacuation was only temporary" does not make it OK.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  nasch (profile), 22 May 2015 @ 3:19pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

                  That was me.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2015 @ 3:40pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

                  Nasch:

                  The heart of the question is how you define severe. There was an apparently minimal release of radiation, with apparently no quantifiable effect to anyone. Sure, release of any radiation is highly undesirable, and not "okay," as is carbon monoxide from cars, radioactivity from burning coal, and dumping garbage in the sea.

                  However, you look at what happened at Chernobyl and Fukushima, where thousands of acres are so contaminated with radioactivity that it is not, and will not be safe to live for decades, and maybe longer, and compare that to Three Mile Island, where the only issue, short term or long term, is the reactor building. I would say that the design of Three Mile Island shows a much more cautious approach to the design of nuclear reactors than either of the other two.

                  People have an irrational paranoia when it comes to nuclear energy. The reality is that a typical coal plant will release more radiation than a typical nuclear plant.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • icon
                    nasch (profile), 22 May 2015 @ 5:38pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

                    However, you look at what happened at Chernobyl and Fukushima, where thousands of acres are so contaminated with radioactivity that it is not, and will not be safe to live for decades, and maybe longer, and compare that to Three Mile Island, where the only issue, short term or long term, is the reactor building.

                    Yes, nobody is arguing that Chernobyl was not worse than Three Mile Island.

                    The reality is that a typical coal plant will release more radiation than a typical nuclear plant.

                    It's the atypical ones that are the problem. The difference in radiation output between a typical coal fired power plant and one undergoing a catastrophic failure is not that great. The same cannot be said for a nuclear power plant.

                    Sure, release of any radiation is highly undesirable,

                    That's my main point, I just wanted to push back against any minimization of "minor" nuclear accidents.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Blackfiredragon13 (profile), 20 May 2015 @ 5:55pm

          Re: Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

          If you want to get picky about it Chernobyl's incident was caused due to problems with the cooling, not actual reactor itself.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2015 @ 3:19am

          Re: Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

          No Windscale? Windscale was a terrrifying incident that should never have been allowed to happen and should really receive far more publicity than it gets.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Mason Wheeler (profile), 21 May 2015 @ 8:23am

          Re: Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

          You know what the difference between a mushroom cloud and a meltdown is? All the civilians who lived around Chernobyl and Fukushima who were able to be evacuated safely.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2015 @ 11:26pm

        Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

        If you think that "Every major nation on the planet has been infiltrated by terrorists that are preparing to attack us from within." (last paragraph on wikileaks) which seems kind of represent the official view of the UK then this lack of security is something that should not be allowed to happen.

        Or imho if the whole terrorist thing isn't as bad then those flaws don't matter and a cover up is enough of damage control.

        But if you are a country making new laws based on "OMG we are all going to die by terrorists" then you don't have an option in my opinion. Because people apparently can get into places they aren't supposed to, listen to stuff they should not hear, and they can get equipment on board which they aren't allowed to have. Using a coverup (arresting the whistle blower) in this situation doesn't make you look like you have things under control imho.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 21 May 2015 @ 10:43am

        Re: Re: Nuclear disaster? More like sour grapes!

        It may make for a good movie plot, but the fact of the matter is, nuclear devices, both of the "reactor" and "warhead" variety, are deliberately engineered to make a mushroom cloud showing up by accident virtually impossible.

        That statement seems to imply that the only kind of nuclear incident worth worrying about is a mushroom-cloud scale detonation. Seems extremely shortsighted and I hope the Royal Navy doesn't share that view.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hephaestus (profile), 20 May 2015 @ 2:26pm

    Good Bye United Kingdom

    Ireland ... How Close Was The Vote To Leave Last Time?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 20 May 2015 @ 2:54pm

    Which way is it? You can't have it both ways

    Dear UK authorities,

    Which way is it?

    1. Is McNeilly arrested for telling untruths?
    (his subjective and unsubstantiated personal views)

    2. Or is McNeilly arrested for telling the truth?


    If (1), then why arrest him at all?

    If (2), then why arrest him at all?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2015 @ 2:58pm

      Re: Which way is it? You can't have it both ways

      It's #2, and they arrested him because the worst crime you can commit is making those in charge look bad, which he has done.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2015 @ 1:31am

      Re: Which way is it? You can't have it both ways

      Neither.

      He is facing disciplinary action for going AWOL. The MoD have specifically said they're not going to prosecute him under the Official Secrets Act for leaking precisely because they don't consider his leak true.

      Quite frankly some of the new stories on this case were awful. The Guardian seems to be complaining that the MoD aren't prosecuting him for leaking of all things.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2015 @ 5:07pm

    Another hero, thank you for doing what you do. Telling the truth rather than help cover up the lies of traitors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2015 @ 12:50am

    If you think that "Every major nation on the planet has been infiltrated by terrorists that are preparing to attack us from within." (last paragraph on wikileaks) which seems kind of represent the official view of the UK then this lack of security is something that should not be allowed to happen.

    No but a constant threat of terrorism lets you both get away with affording yourself privileges and downplaying civil rights issues, that you otherwise wouldn't.

    As for seaman McNeilly here, while I do appreciate the honesty, frankly I don't think the leaked info was worth the price he'll end up paying. Not to mention how the rest of his family might feel about all this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2015 @ 3:50am

    exposing the corruption and crimes of those in charge gets you labelled a terrorist these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2015 @ 4:50am

    is now in the custody of the Royal Navy police at a military establishment in Scotland where he is being afforded the duty of care that we give to all of our people.


    So, i guess he is "going for a swim".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2015 @ 1:40pm

    Wondering about this guy's actual knowledge...

    Some things puzzle me about this so-called "whistle blower."

    For example, he claims that there was a massive cover up of the collision of the Vanguard and the French sub. Yet, there are not a few, not dozens, but HUNDREDS of articles from 2009 that discuss the collision, the UK's initial denials or silence, and the ultimate release of information. In other words, there was a "massive," whatever THAT means in this context, cover up in 2009, but it appears that many, and maybe even the most significant details, became known in 2009.

    As another example, he claims that 65 meters is the so-called safe depth of operation for the HMS Vanguard, and yet multiple unclassified sources say the "official" safe depth is 180 meters plus, and non-military affiliated military experts (e.g., Jane's) claim operating depths of 300+ meters. So, is the safe depth 65 meters, which sounds like the safe depth for a WWII submarine, or is it 300 meters or more? I suspect the latter. I have no clue where he got 65 meters.

    He also includes comments that the reactors need replaced. Except, I thought the reactors were basically built into the submarine. In other words, I do not believe they CAN be replace.

    He also talks about how the submarine could be brought down from within, and how that is somehow scary. He makes me wonder whether he has been in the military for long. I've flown on really big Air Force jets. It is phenomenally easy to bring one down if that is really your desire, and if you were crazy enough to want to bring one down with you in it. Indeed, there is not really any way to prevent someone from doing all sorts of nasty stuff to big military equipment, if you have access to the equipment. Witness the guy who stole a tank a few years back and went on a rampage. Fortunately, it takes a LOT more to arm a tank and then steal it.

    A few other things in his diatribe seemed a bit off, but other navy and submarine experts can chime in any time they like. Maybe the UK is not charging him under the Official Secrets Act because whatever information he claims to have is tainted by inaccuracies. Or is flat out wrong.

    Is this guy another Snowden, or a Snowden wannabe who appears to be MASSIVELY FAILING in his attempt at whistleblowing?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 24 May 2015 @ 12:39am

    Definition of Obscenity


    What is the legal definition of obscenity in the US?

    The standard definition is given by Justice Stewart in his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 US 184,197 (US 1964): ``I know it when I see it''. Thus the job of any seller or distributor is to revive the long-deceased in order to show the material to him and see if he deems it unclean.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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