The Ministry of Defence (the Department) uses nuclear-powered submarines, including those with and without nuclear weapons, to meet its operational requirements. Since 1980, it has removed 20 submarines from service and replaced them with newer ones. It has committed to handling the resultant nuclear liabilities responsibly and disposing of submarines “as soon as reasonably practicable”. Disposal includes removing the irradiated nuclear fuel (defueling), safely storing submarines, taking out the radioactive parts (dismantling), and then recycling the boat. To date, the Department has not yet disposed of any of its 20 retired submarines, with nine of them still containing irradiated fuel. The Department plans to take a further three submarines out of service over the next decade. The Department stores out‑of‑service submarines at dockyards in Devonport (Devon) and Rosyth (Fife), which the nuclear regulators have assessed as safe.
NAO 3rd April 2019 read more »
Delaying the disposal of the Royal Navy’s retired submarine fleet has cost the taxpayer £900 million, according to the Whitehall spending watchdog. None of the 20 submarines that have left service since 1980 has been fully defuelled or dismantled. They include HMS Conqueror, which sank the General Belgrano in the Falklands conflict in 1982, and the four Polaris vessels that carried Britain’s nuclear deterrent until the mid-1990s. A National Audit Office report published today says that while it is expensive to scrap the submarines, at £96 million per boat, delaying the disposal programme is also costly, adding £900 million to the total bill so far. Each decommissioned submarine costs £12 million a year to store and maintain. Meg Hillier, chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, heaped scorn on the “dismal lack of progress” and “spiralling costs”. She told the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to “get a grip urgently before we run out of space to store and maintain submarines and we damage our reputation as a responsible nuclear power”. The budget for the programme to dismantle retired submarines and remove their radioactive parts has soared by £800 million, or 50 per cent, due to a 15-year delay in rolling out a tested approach. In addition, the 11-year delay in the project to remove irradiated fuel from the nine retired nuclear submarines has seen the budget rise by £100 million, or 57 per cent. Regulators halted the defuelling of submarines in 2004 after government facilities failed to meet required standards. The process is not due to start again until 2023. The bill for maintaining and disposing of the navy’s 20 stored and 10 serving submarines stands at £7.5 billion over the next 120 years, the time needed to deal with the nuclear waste.
Times 3rd April 2019 read more »
Storage of obsolete nuclear submarines has cost the UK taxpayer £500m because of “dismal” failings in the government’s nuclear decommissioning programme, Whitehall’s spending watchdog has found. The Ministry of Defence has twice as many submarines in storage as it does in service and has not disposed of any of the 20 vessels decommissioned since 1980, the National Audit Office (NAO) said. Nine of the vessels still contained radioactive fuel, it said. The failure to address the issue risked damaging the UK’s international reputation as a “responsible nuclear power”, the auditors concluded. The damning findings will increase the pressure on the MoD over its management. An NAO report in January identified a £21bn funding gap in the department over the next decade.
Guardian 3rd April 2019 read more »
Seven of Britain’s decommissioned nuclear submarines have been in storage for longer than they were in service because the Ministry of Defence is unable to dispose of them. The UK now has twice as many submarines mothballed than operational because the MOD has failed to dispose of any of the 20 nuclear boats it has decommissioned since 1980. The Government has lacked the facilities to remove nuclear fuel since 2004 and there is not a fully funded plan to re-start the work, according to a report published by the National Audit Office.
Telegraph 3rd April 2019 read more »
The National 3rd April 2019 read more »
Scotsman 3rd April 2019 read more »
Herald 3rd April 2019 read more »
STV 3rd April 2019 read more »
Britain’s ageing nuclear submarines are dangerous. REVELATIONS that the Ministry of Defence has failed to dispose of any of the 20 nuclear submarines it has decommissioned in nearly 40 years underlines the unique risks associated with nuclear weapons. What passes for debate in Parliament on our nuclear arsenal is deeply frustrating. Ministers airily dismiss concerns about the staggering cost of Trident renewal (over £200 billion), ignore advice from top brass that these “useless” weapons swallow up money that would be better spent on conventional equivalents, sidestep questions about whether the ability to incinerate whole cities at the push of a button is a relevant deterrent to modern threats from terrorism to climate change. Dr Philip Webber of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) warned in 2017 that of the 12 retired submarines docked at Devonport, eight still contained fuelled nuclear reactors. These “have to be continually cooled using external power and water to avoid overheating, which could lead to a fire, meltdown or a release of radioactive particles and gases.” The risks involved in defuelling nuclear reactors are considerable – that’s why the MoD has felt unable to do so safely for 15 years — and older reactors (as we would expect to find on vessels that haven’t been operational for up to 40 years) tend to pose a greater risk of igniting, exploding or releasing radiation if anything goes wrong in the process than newer ones. In an excellent article published in the SGR newsletter of winter 2017, Dr Webber points out that the MoD is actually aware of how dangerous keeping decommissioned subs knocking around is: following freedom of information requests, minutes of a Defence Board Meeting of 2011 were released. The MoD’s senior nuclear safety regulator Commodore Andrew McFarlane notes that “all pressurised water reactors are potentially vulnerable to … structural failure,” which could lead to “release of highly radioactive fission products outside the reactor core.” This would be a public safety hazard “out to 1.5 kilometres” (almost a mile) from the submarine. Dr Webber estimates that 32,000 residents of Plymouth would fall within that range.
Morning Star 3rd April 2019 read more »
Plans by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to rethink the disposal of radioactive waste from 27 defunct nuclear submarines have come under fierce fire from campaigners. A recent meeting of local authority advisors was told that the MoD is “considering alternative options for the management of the waste”. This is despite previous decisions made after an exhaustive, 16-year public consultation process. Those who were involved in the consultations are alarmed that the MoD is thinking of changing what has been agreed – and are pressing for more information. It was “incredibly frustrating”, said one critic. Since the 1980s seven aged nuclear-powered submarines have been taken out of service and laid up at the Rosyth naval dockyard in Fife. Since the 1990s, thirteen more have been laid up at Devonport naval dockyard in Plymouth, nine of them still containing radioactive fuel. A further three reactor-driven submarines are due to be retired in the next few years. They will be followed by the four Vanguard-class submarines, currently armed with Trident nuclear missiles and based at Faslane on the Clyde. The MoD began a public submarine dismantling project in 2000. It announced in 2016 that a nuclear plant at Capenhurst in Cheshire had been chosen as an “interim storage site” for radioactive waste. Work on dismantling the first “demonstrator” submarine, Swiftsure, began at Rosyth in 2016. The MoD said in December 2018 that over 70 tonnes of radioactive and non-radioactive waste had been removed, and that dismantling of a second submarine, Resolution, would start in 2019. But now future plans have been thrown into confusion by the MoD reportedly having second thoughts. The change of heart was disclosed by the Nuclear Legacy Advisory Forum (NuLeAF), an expert group working with 113 local planning authorities in England and Wales. NFLA Scotland convener, Glasgow SNP councillor Feargal Dalton, blamed “real weaknesses” in MoD processes. NFLA was “highly frustrated” with the delays in resolving what to do with submarine nuclear waste, he said. “A solution to dealing with the radioactive waste from submarines took years to agree upon, so it is disappointing to say the least that the MoD is changing its mind without discussing this matter with the stakeholders.” Campaigners have reacted angrily. “Given the amount of time, effort and public money that went into the consultation process, it is alarming to hear that the MoD now appear to be changing its mind,” said Jane Tallents, who was an advisor to the MoD’s submarine dismantling project.
The Ferret 2nd April 2019 read more »
The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) Scotland Forum is concerned to hear that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is considering a potentially significant change in its plans to dismantle nuclear submarines located at Rosyth in Fife, as well as at Plymouth Devonport. These had originally been agreed upon by a wide amount of relevant stakeholders following one of the most extensive nuclear policy consultation processes to date. The MOD’s Submarine Dismantling Project (SDP) was established to dismantle around 25 redundant nuclear powered submarines. The extensive consultation process began over 20 years ago and in its initial phases was full of rancour and disagreement. However, between 2012 – 2015 a well-run largely open and transparent consultation process, bringing in groups like the NFLA, the LGA Special Interest Nuclear Legacy Advisory Forum (NuLEAF), local non-governmental organisations, regulators and the nuclear industry came together to try and resolve many of the contentious issues. This led to a decision that the reactor pressure vessels would be ‘cut out’ of the submarines and then transported safely by road for interim storage at the Urenco nuclear site at Capenhurst in Cheshire. It is understood that the MOD have a £3 million a year contract with Urenco for the site, but no intermediate level radioactive waste has yet been sent there from the demonstrator project based at Rosyth.
NFLA 2nd April 2019 read more »