RNAD Coulport
Part of HMNB Clyde
Loch Long, Argyll and Bute in Scotland
Perimeter fence and buildings at RNAD Coulport
RNAD Coulport is located in Argyll and Bute
RNAD Coulport
RNAD Coulport
Location in Argyll and Bute
Coordinates56°3′0″N 4°52′48″W / 56.05000°N 4.88000°W / 56.05000; -4.88000
TypeNuclear weapons storage and supply depot
Area648 hectares (1,600 acres)
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence (Defence Equipment and Support)
OperatorABL Alliance (AWE, Babcock and Lockheed Martin UK)
Controlled byNaval Base Commander, Clyde
Site history
Built1963 (1963)–1968
In use1968 – present

Royal Naval Armaments Depot Coulport, shortened to RNAD Coulport, on Loch Long in Argyll, Scotland, is the storage and loading facility for the nuclear warheads of the United Kingdom's Trident programme.

The base, near the village of Coulport, has up to 16 reinforced concrete bunkers built into the hillside on the eastern shore of Loch Long. It is the last depot in Britain to retain the "RNAD" designation, indicating a Royal Naval Armaments Depot.

The depot was established during the Cold War as the storage, maintenance and loading facility for Polaris nuclear weapons. Today, Coulport is mainly used for handling Trident warheads.

Two docks are located on the shoreline at the foot of the hill. There, weapons are loaded onto Vanguard-class nuclear submarines before they go on patrol and unloaded before they return to base at nearby Faslane. An older jetty is known as the Polaris Jetty, while the newer, covered Explosive Handling Jetty (EHJ) is used for handling Trident warheads.[1]


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. It is the site of the farm of Duchlage (historically spelt Duchlass).

The Nassau Agreement was signed in December 1962, and the Polaris Sales Agreement was signed in April 1963. Initial construction took place between 1963, when Faslane was chosen as the new Polaris base, and 1968, when the first Polaris boat began its patrol. Safety considerations required that the armament maintenance and the storage facility have its own berth and be at least 4,400 feet (1,300 m) from the main facility whilst operational considerations dictated that the two facilities should be within an hour's sailing time. Coulport, on the opposite peninsula, met both of these requirements.[2]

Submarine returning from patrol

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.[3]

Prior to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the implications of a potential vote for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom for the Coulport and Faslane bases were extensively discussed in the media, as it was unclear if any submarine base in England, Wales or Northern Ireland could house the Coulport silos.[4][5][6] However, since the Scottish electorate voted against independence, the area along with the rest of Scotland remained UK territory and so the bases, and the equipment housed there, were unaffected.[7]

A covered floating dry dock 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.[8]

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 outright 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.[9]

Site management

RNAD Coulport is owned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and is one of four Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites. Under a fifteen-year contract agreed in 2012, AWE plc, Babcock and Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems, together known as the ABL Alliance, manage and operate Coulport, although the Royal Navy's Naval Base Commander Clyde retains overall control and responsibility for security and activities. The site is regulated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation and Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator.[10][11]


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".[12]

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."[13]

Transport of Trident nuclear warheads by road

Main article: Defence Nuclear Material Transport Operations

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.[14] 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 (MDP) 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 Control 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.[15]

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.

Protesters regularly try to stop the convoy and climb onto the TCHDs. 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.

See also


  1. ^ Bourn, John (27 July 1994). "Ministry of Defence: Management of the Trident Works Programme" (PDF). Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General. London: National Audit Office. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 March 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
  2. ^ Chalmers, Malcolm; Walker, William. "The United Kingdom, Nuclear Weapons, and the Scottish Question" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 December 2008.
  3. ^ Central Unit on Procurement (1995). The Trident Works Programme (a Case Study) (PDF). CUP guidance. Vol. 49. London: HM Treasury. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 November 2012. Retrieved 15 September 2015.
  4. ^ Kirkup, James (26 January 2012). "Nuclear subs will stay in Scotland, Royal Navy chiefs decide". The Daily telegraph. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "RUSI paper on relocation of Coulport facility". Archived from the original on 23 September 2018. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
  7. ^ "Scottish referendum: Scotland votes 'No' to independence". BBC News. 19 September 2014.
  8. ^ Randall, RF (1 May 1995). "The Trident Explosives Handling Jetty, Royal Naval Armaments Depot, Coulport: construction, tow and commissioning". Proceedings of the ICE - Structures and Buildings. 110 (2). London: Institution of Civil Engineers: 136–148. doi:10.1680/istbu.1995.27595. ISSN 0965-0911. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
  9. ^ "The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent" (PDF). MoD Fact Sheet 4: The Current System. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  10. ^ "MOD signs Trident support contract". GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. 27 July 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2020.
  11. ^ "Our locations". AWE. Retrieved 7 October 2020.
  12. ^ "HM Naval Base Clyde - Quarterly report for 1 July 2011 to 30 September 2011". Bootle: Office for Nuclear Regulation, Health and Safety Executive. Archived from the original on 8 July 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  13. ^ "HM Naval Base Clyde - Quarterly report for October to December 2011". Bootle: Office for Nuclear Regulation, Health and Safety Executive. Archived from the original on 8 July 2013. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  14. ^ DS&C-NAR Report 'NRC Booklet Exercise Senator 2005' http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/601A7726-34E4-4925-B4B8-ABA220F535F0/0/nrc_booklet_exsenator05v8.pdf Archived 5 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ 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. www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmdfence/225/225i.pdf

Further reading