US firms bid to run Royal Navy nuclear warhead site
A group of private companies has bid to take over the running of the Royal Navy arms base at Coulport on the Clyde, where nuclear warheads are stored.
The Atomic Weapons Establishment, led by the US firm Lockheed Martin, said a decision was expected within months.
The MoD said the site would stay under its control and that the security of Britain's Trident missile nuclear deterrent would not be compromised.
But politicians and anti-nuclear campaigners are concerned by the move.
The Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) at Coulport, on the east side of Loch Long in Argyll, is part of HM Naval Base Clyde.
RNAD Coulport is eight miles from Faslane, the home to submarines fitted with Trident nuclear missiles.
Coulport is responsible for the storage, processing, maintenance and issue of the Trident Weapon System and all ammunition for the base's submarine fleet.
AWE, who provide and maintain warheads, run plants at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire.
The company is managed for the MoD through a contractor-operated arrangement, so while the sites are government-owned, their day-to-day operations are contracted to private firm AWE Management Limited, comprising shareholders Lockheed Martin, Serco and Jacobs Engineering Group.
An AWE spokeswoman said: "AWE, together with Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems and Babcock International Group, is bidding for a significant role in elements of the management and operations of the Coulport site.
"This is currently being assessed by the MoD and a decision is expected early next year."
The decision will be announced after a review is carried out by the MoD into the organisation's structure.
An MOD spokeswoman said: "We are currently reviewing how best to provide strategic weapons support at the Royal Naval Arms Depot in Coulport, but no decision has yet been made.
"Whatever the outcome, the site will remain under MoD control and the safety, security and effectiveness of the UK's strategic deterrent will not be compromised."
However, the MSP for the area, Labour's Jackie Baillie, said: "This announcement has more to do with cutting jobs. But I also think it risks public safety and it threatens the security of our nation.
"To suggest that a private company can come in and effectively run our nuclear warheads base is just extraordinary and irresponsible.
"I don't believe they should be taking short-term funding decisions about the defence of our country based on a budget deficit. It's entirely wrong and dangerous."
The SNP's defence spokesman, Angus Robertson, said: "This is a highly questionable move by the UK government.
"The SNP opposition to the nuclear fleet is absolute, but as long as Trident and nuclear missiles remain on the Clyde I would resist privatisation particularly from companies outwith the country.
"Weapons of mass destruction are the most sensitive areas of military technology and should not be privatised."
The anti-nuclear group Scottish CND said it would give the United States "full control" over the UK's nuclear weapons.
Its co-ordinator John Ainslie said: "If this goes ahead, then the Royal Navy should lower the Union Jack which flutters above Loch Long and replace it with the Stars and Stripes."