Ministers have made the 'Main Gate' decision on the next steps to be taken in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) programme for addressing the legacy of the Royal Navy's fleet of redundant nuclear powered submarines, announcing that submarine dismantling will take place at the Rosyth and Devonport naval dockyards and outlining the approach which will be used to select an interim storage site for radioactive waste from the submarines.
In its response to last year's submarine dismantling consultation programme, MoD has said that, as the first step in the dismantling programme, one of the ageing submarines currently in storage at Rosyth dockyard will be dismantled as a 'demonstration' pilot – although this work will not commence for several years yet. During the demonstration the reactor pressure vessel from the submarine – the largest radioactively contaminated component in the reactor compartment - will be removed and stored whole.
MoD has agreed to undertake further consultation in 2014 on selection of a site for storage of intermediate level radioactive waste generated from the submarine dismantling process. On the basis of the results from public consultation, alongside recent legal advice, all existing nuclear sites in the UK, including those owned by MoD, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and industry, will be considered as candidate locations for storage of the waste. The government eventually intends to place waste from submarines in an underground radioactive waste repository alongside civil stocks of radioactive waste.
If the Rosyth demonstration is successful, MoD will then undertake dismantling of all remaining out-of-service submarines at both Rosyth and Devonport dockyards. The Ministry has promised that no intermediate level radioactive waste will be removed from the submarines – including the demonstration pilot - until a solution and location for its storage has been agreed.
The Navy will eventually have to manage waste from 27 submarines which have been in service since HMS Dreadnought, the UK's first nuclear powered submarine entered service in 1963. Seven redundant submarines are currently in store afloat at Rosyth dockyard, with 11 more at Devonport dockyard and the remainder still in service. Commissioning of new Astute and 'Successor' class submarines would add to this total.
Consultation on options for dismantling the submarines took place over the winter of 2012-3, with more than 1,200 people attending consultation events and over 400 written responses received in response to MoD proposals on how and where radioactive waste should be removed from redundant submarines, the type of site which might be suitable for storage of the waste, and environmental impacts resulting from the process. According to Philip Dunne, Minister of State for Defence Equipment, Support, and Technology, comments received in response to the consultation “provided valuable input to the MoD’s options analysis, which has changed and matured significantly as a result”.
Declaration of interest: Di McDonald, Chair of the Nuclear Information Service Board of Directors, is a member of the Ministry of Defence Submarine Dismantling Project Advisory Group.