'Graveyard' fear as sub's hull is holed

Published: 3 Apr 2008 09:20

Expert's concern as diver finds hole in hull of decommissioned nuclear submarine

A HOLE has been discovered in the hull of a radioactive nuclear submarine at Rosyth Dockyard, renewing safety fears about the decaying vessels.

It is the first incident of its kind involving the seven decommissioned subs at Rosyth since the Ministry of Defence starting laying them up afloat at the yard 25 years ago this month.

The hole, about the size of a fist, was found by a diver on the Polaris sub, HMS Revenge, during a routine inspection in February.

Leading nuclear consultant John Large predicted that the deteriorating condition of the redundant boats will lead to Rosyth becoming 'a nuclear graveyard' for the UK"s old subs.

Mr Large, who advised Russia after the Kursk submarine disaster, said 'indecision and incompetence' from the MoD and Royal Navy on the fate of the hulks would result in 'Rosyth becoming a nuclear dump by default'.

He added, 'This is a significant incident as it will force the MoD to finally make a decision on this after years of humming and hawing.'

The vessel will be taken into a dry dock in May to allow a full inspection and repairs to be carried out.

For years, arguments have raged about what should done about the 'rusting hulks' lying at Rosyth.

However, a MoD spokesman told the Press the hole had been caused by microbes and not by rust.

'This type of microbe attack is quite common on offshore industry installations,' he added.

The high-level radioactive fuel has long since been removed from the vessels. However, large radioactive reactor compartments remain in the middle of the subs.

The damage was discovered on one of six external ballast tanks, which are about half an inch thick compared to the inner hull, which is an inch and a half thick.

A spokesman for the MoD said, 'There are six external ballast tanks and 10 internal ballast tanks. There was never any danger of the boat sinking. Even if there were holes in the six external tanks that wouldn"t happen.'

John Howie, Babcock"s managing director for warships, said, 'We are confident that the problem recently identified with the laid up submarines poses no radiological risk.

'We are working closely with the MoD to plan and undertake the docking of Revenge for maintenance and preservation.'

A lengthy consultation exercise, ISOLUS, was carried out into the storage of the radioactive waste from the submarines until a permanent repository is found.

However, so far the Government has failed to come up with a decision.

Mr Large said, 'They have a very serious problem to deal with at Rosyth.

"Staggering"

'The indecision and incompetence shown by the Ministry of Defence and Royal Navy over what to do with these boats has been absolutely staggering.

'They"ve had no strategy and just to leave them afloat to rot really beggars belief.

'You have to remember that up until 1985 the Royal Navy"s policy on what to do with these old nuclear submarines was simply to dump them at sea.

'Sadly for the people of Rosyth and Scotland, they are being left with the legacy having had no benefits since the submarine re-fitting work was moved to Devonport for political reasons.

'Basically, Scotland is being left with the rubbish and I would imagine this will bring the Royal Navy up against the Scottish Government.

'I would imagine that when they take Revenge out of the water, it will be like a car"s MoT - once they find one thing wrong they"ll find others.

'They will play down the incident but many parts of the submarines are inaccessible.

'I think they"ll decide that Revenge has come to the end of its life afloat and if it"s true for one, it"ll be true for others - Dreadnought for a start.

'These boats have been lying so long that radioactivity seeps through the bilges.

'When they store the first submarine on land that will be the start. I can see the rest going there because the MoD will not want more than one site.

Depository

'That would see Rosyth becoming Britain"s nuclear graveyard for the ones already at Rosyth, the ones at Devonport and the rest still to come out of service over the next few years.

'Even if the U.K. was to take the decision today to have a national depository for nuclear waste it would be 2035 to 2040 before it was ready.

'While the ISOLUS programme and consultations went on for years over what to do with the waste - with no decision at the end - time has been ticking and now the condition of the submarines means that the decision has been made for them. They will have to stay where they are because corrosion has started.'

George Anderson, who for many years ran the campaign group, Rosythwatch, said, 'When I went to these ISOLUS meetings, I used to come out more depressed than when I went in.

'It was obvious that none of them had any idea what to do with this nuclear waste, military or civil.

'At the end of it all, nothing become of ISOLUS and now I hear they"re talking about starting another consultation in 2009.

'All the time the submarines have just been left lying down there.

'For all I"ve slagged the MoD over the years, the real culprits are the politicians. They"ve ducked taking the hard decisions and now you don"t hear any of them wanting to talk about what we should do with the nuclear waste.'

In April 1983, Britain"s first nuclear sub, HMS Dreadnought, was towed into Rosyth at the end of her service and remains laid up there.

Controversial plans by Babcock to create the world"s first land store for radioactive submarines at Rosyth were rejected by the MoD in 2001.

However, the Scottish Government recently earmarked Rosyth as a potential nuclear waste store in its National Planning Framework, along with five other possible sites.

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