Military Wiki
"Coulport" redirects here; for the neighbouring village, see village.
RNAD Coulport
Part of HMNB Clyde
Loch Long, Argyll, Scotland
Coulport Roundabout - - 160841.jpg
Entrance to RNAD Coulport
Type Storage and loading of nuclear warheads
Coordinates Latitude: 56.05
Longitude: -04.88
Built 1963-8 (Polaris programme)
1982-95 (Trident Works Programme)
UK government
Open to
the public
Controlled by Royal Navy

RNAD Coulport in Argyll, Scotland, is the storage and loading facility for the United Kingdom's stock of Trident nuclear warheads. The last Royal Naval Armaments Depot to retain the "RNAD" designation, the 16 reinforced concrete bunkers are built into the hillside near the village of Coulport, on the eastern shore of Loch Long.

Below the bunkers lie 2 docks for Vanguard nuclear submarines, which are used when a patrol submarine is being loaded and unloaded with armaments. The older jetty is known as the Polaris Jetty, while the newer, covered Explosive Handling Jetty (EHJ) is used for handling Trident warheads.[1]

Coulport was established during the Cold War, as the storage and loading facility for the UK's Polaris nuclear weapons system, and now handles the Trident system. Although Coulport is primarily used for handling the warheads, it has facilities for loading and unloading the missiles. The depot also stores and handles conventional weapons, for example torpedoes.

The implications of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 for the Coulport and Faslane bases have been extensively discussed in the media, as it is unclear if any submarine base in England, Wales or Northern Ireland could house the Coulport silos.[2][3]


Trident II (D-5) missile underwater launch.

A Trident submarine leaving its base on the Clyde. The village of Strone is visible in the background.

Perimeter fence at RNAD Coulport.

MoD road to RNAD Coulport.

Coulport had originally been best known as a summer holiday retreat for wealthy Glaswegians, with its most notable feature being Kibble Palace, now relocated to the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

The Nassau Agreement was signed in December 1962, and the Polaris Sales Agreement was signed in April 1963. Construction of Coulport, on the site of the farm of Duchlage (historically spelt Duchlass), began in 1963, and was completed in 1968.

The Trident Works Programme at Coulport and Faslane, co-ordinated by the Property Services Agency, took 13 years to complete. Planning work at Coulport began in 1982, and the estimated final cost for the entire programme, at 1994 prices, was approximately £1.9 billion. This made it the second most expensive procurement project in the UK after the Channel Tunnel project.[4]

Explosive Handling Jetty

A covered berth for the Trident submarines was built at Hunterston in Ayrshire, and floated to RNAD Coulport where it has been situated since 1993. This Explosive Handling Jetty is one of the world's largest floating concrete structures.[5]

Sister depot at Kings Bay, Georgia

The UK's Polaris system was fully serviced at Coulport, but the Trident missiles are randomly selected from the large US stockpile at the Trident Refit Facility at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia. The missiles are not owned by the UK, which has "mingled asset" ownership rights to 58 missiles from a pool shared with the US Navy. The Trident warheads are designed and manufactured by the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, Berkshire, England, and are owned by the UK government.[6]

Safety and accidents at Coulport

Exercise Bowline is the annual test of the emergency response routines to a nuclear weapon accident at Coulport. It is conducted by the Office for Nuclear Regulation. In 2011 the test failed as "a number of command and control aspects of the exercise were not considered to have been adequately demonstrated".[7]

The Exercise was repeated later in the year and recorded "a marked improvement" and that "the agreed objectives and associated success criteria of the ‘Command and Control’ aspects were met."[8]

Transport of Trident nuclear warheads by road

The main logistical movement of nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom is between the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire and RNAD Coulport in Argyll, in both directions. Because the warheads need to be constantly refurbished, batches are shuttled by road convoy several times a year.[9] Convoys use Staging Posts and Crew Change Locations during this journey.

The Truck Cargo Heavy Duty (TCHD) carriers containing the weapons are escorted in a convoy of MoD vehicles commanded by a Ministry of Defence Police Chief Inspector. The crew, of up to 50 people, includes a first aid team, fire crew and personnel equipped to monitor for radiological hazards. The convoy maintains contact by radio and telephone with Task Control, MDP Central Information Room, Wethersfield, Essex, which monitors its movement, and with the civil police forces in the affected areas.

Police forces are notified at least 24 hours in advance of a convoy being routed through their area; this enables them to advise the convoy about any local traffic problems. Police forces may advise fire brigades of the presence of the convoy if it is moving into the vicinity of a fire brigade operation.

Details of nuclear warhead convoys are kept secret by the UK government and the MoD who operate a Neither Confirm Nor Deny policy on informing the public regarding convoys. Evidence given by the Nuclear Information Campaign to the Defence Select Committee (based on figures from campaign group Nukewatch UK for 2000 to 2006) give the number of convoys as ranging from two to six return journeys per year from Aldermaston to Coulport. Estimates of the warhead numbers transported during this period are that 88 were moved from Aldermaston to Coulport while 120 were returned, indicating a withdrawal of between 30 and 50 warheads leaving an operational stockpile of between 170 and 150 warheads.[10]

In the event of a nuclear accident the SSC would activate the MoD’s Nuclear Accident Response Organisation and would alert the local police constabulary immediately. The responsibility for these operations rests with the Director Nuclear Movements & Nuclear Accident Response Group.

Protestors regularly try to stop the convoy and climb onto the TCHD’s. The MDP are trained on a regular basis to counter any protest. MDP motorcyclists and traffic car officers make arrests and then hand over responsibility to the local police force. For 22 years Aldermaston Women’s Peace Campaign have held a monthly camp outside the fence at AWE Aldermaston. Nukewatch UK tracks convoys and has provided evidence for the House of Commons Defence Select Committee (evidence from Nuclear Information Service)

See also


  1. Bourn, John (27 July 1994). "Ministry of Defence: Management of the Trident Works Programme". Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General. London: National Audit Office. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  2. Kirkup, James (26 Jan 2012). "Nuclear subs will stay in Scotland, Royal Navy chiefs decide". The Daily telegraph. Retrieved 4 April 2012. 
  3. Norton-Taylor, Richard (29 January 2012). "Trident nuclear deterrent 'at risk' if Scotland votes for independence". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 4 April 2012. 
  4. Central Unit on Procurement (1995). The Trident Works Programme (a Case Study). CUP guidance. 49. London: HM Treasury. 
  5. Randall, RF (1 May 1995). "The Trident Explosives Handling Jetty, Royal Naval Armaments Depot, Coulport: construction, tow and commissioning". London: Institution of Civil Engineers. pp. 136 –148. ISSN 0965-0911. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  6. "The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent". MoD Fact Sheet 4: The Current System. Retrieved 4 April 2012. 
  7. "HM Naval Base Clyde - Quarterly report for 1 July 2011 to 30 September 2011". Bootle: Office for Nuclear Regulation, Health and Safety Executive. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  8. "HM Naval Base Clyde - Quarterly report for October to December 2011". Bootle: Office for Nuclear Regulation, Health and Safety Executive. Retrieved 20 May 2013. 
  9. DS&C-NAR Report 'NRC Booklet Exercise Senator 2005'
  10. House of Commons Defence Committee. The Future of the UK’s Strategic Nuclear Deterrent: the White Paper. Ninth Report of Session 2006–07. Volume II. Oral and written evidence. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 27 February 2007.

Further reading

  • Mackby, Jenifer; Cornish, Paul (2008). U.S.-UK nuclear cooperation after 50 years. Washington DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies. pp. 410. ISBN 9780892065301. 

External links

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