Nancekuke, a site at the heart of Cornwall's
mining history, comprises eight scattered farms and old quarries on the Cornish coast at
Portreath. During the Second World War, Nancekuke was a strategic airfield used by RAF Portreath
and had four runways. In May 1950, Nancekuke Common, as it was known, was acquired from the RAF by the
Ministry of Supply and it became the United Kingdom's main chemical weapons and R&D
facility of Porton Down (1954-1956)
Between 1954 and 1956, Nancekuke was
used to manufacture more than 20 tonnes of the nerve gas Sarin. Nancekuke, which was actually a satellite
of the more well-known chemical weapons research facility at Porton Down, Wiltshire, was closed down in 1980
and returned to the RAF.
Nancekuke's buildings and equipment, which are thought to have been contaminated
by various toxic chemicals, were buried in various disused, local mine shafts after the site was closed
in 1980. Nerve-gas leakages are thought to have been responsible
for causing prolonged neurological and psychological problems among Nancekuke's employees and
ex-employees. Between 1955 and 1959, there were 306 cases of respiratory disease during the height
of nerve-gas production there. Furthermore, 41 employees out of an estimated 150 died during
or after working at Nancekuke, a death rate that was far above the national average then, a fact that
the MOD has always disputed.
1. Candy Atherton, MP for Falmouth
and Camborne, Hansard 20 January
2. Nancekuke, The Remediation Project, MOD's
website, 9 June 2010.