The British Government allowed film cameras and reporters into their Chemical Defence Establishment at Nancekuke, Cornwall, yesterday, (Wednesday October 28) for the first time since it was opened in 1951.
The British Government allowed film cameras and reporters into their Chemical Defence Establishment at Nancekuke, Cornwall, yesterday, (Wednesday October 28) for the first time since it was opened in 1951. Nancekuke is the process research division of the other main Chemical Defence Establishment, Porton Down, whose terms of reference are to asses the chemical warfare threats Down, whose terms of reference are to asses appropriate means of defence.
The nature of the work undertaken at Nancekuke involves many precautions; patrols guard the perimeter to maintain security, and scientists involved in the work itself wear protective clothing. There have been 41 death among the employees of the establishment during the last 19 years; nine during employment and 32 after they left, but the Government says that their deaths were not allied to their work in the establishment and that the number was not higher than for other industries.
Nancekuke is known mainly for its production of nerve gases, notably CS-gas, used as an anti-riot agent in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the world. The maximum potential output of the gas, say the Government, is 5 tons per year, made as and when required.
The gases and other chemical agents produced at Nancekuke are first tried on animals and marine life, before being transported at long and irregular intervals under the most stringent safety and security precautions to military establishment throughout the country.
Laboratories are equipped with facilities which include purpose designed working cabinets with associated filtration plant and alarms. The men have protective clothing and entry of personnel into selected areas is strictly controlled.
The special marine laboratories checks the liquid effluent before it is disposed of into the sea to ensure that it will have no harmful effect on local marine life. Each laboratory has its own testing unit but the liquid is subjected to another main test before being released.
Gaseous effluent too is subject to strict filtration processes before entering the atmosphere. Alarms are used to indicate a breakdown of the extraction system.
A medical officer is on hand in case of accident and every day, each person's enzyme-norm level is examined to guard against poisoning by the nerve-agents.
Quite recently, when the full extent of Nancekuke's work came to light, there was major concern expressed at a local and national level about the safety and desirability of the work. It was claimed that with privilege northerly and westerly winds, a cloud of poisonous gas would be half-way across Cornwall before police and fire-brigades could be alerted; and fire, explosions, overheating are all possible accidents at any chemical factory, including Nancekuke, no matter what precautions are taken.