My concerns about the arrangements in place for protecting Britain’s civil nuclear sites led to me tabling some parliamentary questions for written answer.  I have now had the answers and I am left feeling rather less reassured than I would have hoped.

My concern is that the  special police force (the Civil Nuclear Constabulary) which is set up to protect nuclear power stations, other nuclear installations and the transport of nuclear materials, is funded by the nuclear industry – it does not come within the statutory remit of the Home Office.  The answers confirm the funding arrangements: the CNC is “expected to recover its full economic costs each year from those to whom they provide services”.  In practice, this means “the nuclear operators whose sites the CNC police”. 

So who decides how much security is necessary?  The nuclear operators are the paymasters and, as commercial companies, can be expected to try to minimise their costs.  To ensure that a balance is struck there is an official regulator (the Office for Civil Nuclear Security) which regulates and can direct the CNC on “which sites require an armed response and minimum police numbers required to fulfil this.”

One might have expected the ONCS to be part of the Centre for the Protection of the National Infrastructure or the Office of Security and Counter Terrorism.  However, it is not.  In fact, it is part of the Health and Safety Executive and it acts on behalf of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (not the Home Office).  This does not entirely fill me with confidence: the HSE may be well-placed to advise on ensuring that innocent ramblers don’t fall into a vat of toxic waste, but I am not sure about its ability to specify what would be required to deal with a ruthless coordinated and armed attack by terrorists.

The answers also tell me that the CNC “works closely with other police forces to ensure that effective support is available” but this is “an operational policing matter” and it is not clear who is responsible for assessing whether the support available is adequate.

Finally, I asked about what steps were being taken to ensure that the police officers had training and skills compatible with other police forces.  Given that the CNC is armed and may have to undertake joint responses to incidents with other police forces, it is rather important in command and control terms that they can work together effectively.  Again, the answer was hardly reassuring: training is available through the National Policing Improvement Agency, but “there are no specific mandatory training programmes”.

I have no reason to doubt the professionalism of CNC officers (although there have been issues about them being on pay scales that are less than those for officers in other forces), but I would like to be reassured that they are given the same training as other police officers and, in particular, their training is structured so that the CNC and other forces can work together in an integrated manner should the situation require it.

Similarly, I have no reason to doubt the effectiveness of the CNC in doing what the regulator requires it to do, but I am worried that the regulator is approaching his responsibilities from a health and safety perspective, rather than a national security perspective.

I am not sure I will get much further with this through Parliamentary questions – I suspect the next step will be to ask to see the relevant Ministers to see whether they are really happy with the present arrangements.

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