Engineers highlight 'dangerous weaknesses' that leave critical infrastructure unprotected from terrorism or natural disaster

Huge sections of UK infrastructure, including energy and transport networks, would be defenceless if hit by terrorism or bad weather, a major new inquiry has warned.

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) said that too little was being done to protect such systems should they be affected by adverse circumstances.

Efforts had been made to deal with threats from terrorism, the ICE said, but warned the potential effects of climate change and system failures were not being taken seriously enough.

Nuclear plant
Energy infrastructure is a key area unprotected against crisis events

Over 70 sources, including regulators, agencies and service providers, gave evidence to the ICE, which concluded that the work to improve utility networks was “piecemeal”, with “far too many gaps in our infrastructure defence system”, leaving the UK vulnerable to crises.

When the Atomic Weapons Establishment site in Berkshire flooded in 2007, for example, all its radiation detection alarms were disabled. The ICE said it was only “down to luck” that the floodwaters did not lead to the spread of radioactive material.

Leader of the inquiry Alan Stilwell said: “We should be under no illusions - there are dangerous weaknesses in our critical infrastructure and utilities networks that need to be addressed.”

He added: “We need to recognise that the UK's infrastructure assets from an interdependent network, in which a single failure can cascade across the network, rendering otherwise unaffected sectors inoperable.”