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Radioactive risk as nuclear submarines left to rust in Britain's harbours

MoD has not disposed of a retired sub since 1980

THE Ministry of Defence (MoD) is under fire for failing to dispose of cold war-era nuclear-powered submarines that are being left to rust in harbours across Britain.

The MoD now has twice as many submarines in storage as it does in service and has not disposed of any of the 20 boats decommissioned since 1980, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said in a highly critical new report.

The auditors said nine of the vessels still contain irradiated fuel and warned the government that its failure to address the issue risks damaging Britain’s international reputation as a “responsible nuclear power.”

The decommissioned vessels are moored at Devonport in Plymouth and at Rosyth on the Firth of Forth.

Heavily redacted MoD minutes have previously revealed that nuclear-powered submarines are “potentially vulnerable to a structural failure” resulting in a radioactive “shine” that “poses a significant risk to life to those in close proximity.”

The cost of disposing of each naval relic is estimated at £96 million, the NAO said.

The MoD believes it will cost £7.5 billion over the next 120 years to dispose of all its nuclear-powered submarines.

Dealing with radioactive waste is fraught with difficulty and no submarines have been defuelled since 2004, when regulators said facilities did not meet required standards.

The defuelling process is not due to start again until 2023.

Reacting to the report, an MoD spokesperson said: “The disposal of nuclear submarines is a complex and challenging undertaking.

“We remain committed to the safe, secure and cost-effective defuelling and dismantling of all decommissioned nuclear submarines as soon as practically possible.”

However, activists are alarmed by the NAO’s report. Arthur West, chair of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), called it “really very worrying” and said radioactive waste from nuclear submarines was “plaguing the Scottish coast.”

He said the report would “shake public confidence in the MoD’s capacity to deal with this vital health and safety issue, especially given the amount of public money and effort put into these discussions.”

CND general secretary Kate Hudson welcomed the report which she said “puts MoD incompetence and negligence in the spotlight.

“There is a backlog of subs waiting to be dismantled, some of which contain nuclear fuel waste that will be radioactive for thousands of years.

“No permanent safe storage facility has yet been found, but our government chooses to produce more of this toxic waste through a nuclear weapons system that it cannot afford.

“This NAO report must ring alarm bells at the highest levels. The common sense solution is to cancel Trident replacement.”

Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport Luke Pollard said this issue “should be a matter of national urgency.”

He said: “Communities like Devonport in Plymouth cannot continue to look after these subs forever.

“There are 13 old nuclear submarines tied up in Devonport right now and little room for the ones that will come out of service soon. Time, money and space are running out.

“Ministers cannot continue to kick the can down the road. These subs won’t go away on their own.

“It’s time to deal with our nuclear legacy and create jobs in the process.”


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