The UK’s independent spending watchdog has criticised the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for its failure to dispose of any of the 20 nuclear-powered submarines decommissioned from Royal Navy (RN) service since 1980.
In a report published on 3 April, the National Audit Office (NAO) said the costs of afloat storage of the laid up boats had now reached an estimated GBP500 million (USD654 million). It also revealed that delays to a new defuelling facility at Devonport means that that nine decommissioned submarines still contain irradiated fuel, and that defuelling will not re-start for at least another four years.
In 1995, the UK government committed to disposing of decommissioned submarines “as soon as reasonably practicable”. However, a pilot dismantling project for a first boat – ex- Swiftsure – only began in 2016, with a second submarine – ex- Resolution – starting dismantling in late 2018.
The NAO suggests that a single submarine will cost almost GBP100 million to dismantle.
Moreover, the NAO found that the MoD does not yet have a fully funded process to remove, transport, and store all types of radioactive parts. “The dismantling project has been delayed by 15 years, with the whole-life cost increasing by GBP0.8 billion,” it said, adding that the MoD’s latest planning estimate – still to be approved – will not roll-out its dismantling approach until 2026.
Seven decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines are currently at Rosyth in Fife, with a further 13 stored inside 3 Basin at Devonport. This total of 20 is twice as many submarines as the RN currently operates, with seven boats having been in storage for longer than they were in service.
In 2004, the Office for Nuclear Regulation found defuelling facilities at Devonport did not meet the latest regulatory standards and obliged the MoD to cease submarine defuelling operations. Babcock was in October 2005 contracted to build a new defuelling facility at Devonport, involving the construction of a new reactor house and crane.
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