SAFETY chiefs have been accused of failing to justify a plan to cut the number of homes in Southampton that would get anti-radiation pills in a nuclear accident.

They want to reduce from 2km to 1.5km a safety zone around the berth in the port used by visiting nuclear-powered submarines.

It would mean potassium iodate tablets handed out to just 3,500 homes rather than 9,202, saving the Royal Navy time and money.

But anti-nuclear campaigners say that the risk of an accident, which could result in radiation spewing from a sub’s reactor, is likely to have increased with time.

They accuse the council of failing to demand a proper explanation from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Health & Safety Executive (HSE), which made the request to the council to amend the city’s emergency plan, dubbed SotonSafe.

Council officers said that the request was based on an “updated safety assessment”, but could not reveal further details.

John Vetterlein, from Solent Coalition Against Nuclear ships (SCANS), said: “The subs are probably older and more dangerous, so what’s changed? This has major implications for public safety.

“We are not being presented with any evidence whatsoever to justify this.”

But council leader Alec Samuels said: “There is no point in accusing us of not asking questions when the answers are not available.

“This is a matter of national defence. It is not and never has been the practice to disclose all military secrets that would jeopardise national security.”

Nuclear vessels are entitled to dock at Z berth in the port.

Since 1977 there have been 14 visits, normally lasting five days, without incident. It is estimated that there is a onein- 20,000 years possibility of a nuclear accident.

Possible hazards to residents would include breathing in radioactive material, exposure to radioactivity fallen on the ground and contaminated food.

Members of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee have recommended that Tory council leaders tell the Navy that nuclear ships are not welcome in the port.

A council officer will later this month decide whether to reduce the safety zone and revise the SotonSafe plan for adoption in December. Health chiefs have not objected.

An HSE spokesman said that it was reviewing what non-sensitive information in its “request” to the council could be made public.