Nuclear sub move will stir up political storm

The Ministry of Defence may have to move 11 decommissioned nuclear submarines from the Rosyth naval yard in Scotland to Devonport, near Plymouth, in a move which could be fraught with political problems, nuclear experts said this week.

The first part of an MoD study on future strategy for the obsolete vessels will be published on 11 May, following the recognition that the present `storage afloat’ policy could not be sustained until a permanent onshore repository was available for the radioactive elements.

As Devonport will be the UK’s only nuclear dockyard from 2004 onwards, it is the more logical location for onshore storage, despite that fact that more of the submarines are based at Rosyth.

`We are expecting to run out of storage space in the next few years,’ said an MoD spokesman. While he acknowledged that the study had looked at `alternative disposal methods’, he said that these did not involve bringing all the vessels to Devonport, where there are five retired nuclear submarines.

Onshore storage appears inevitable, however, and some experts believe it would be logical for the MoD to consolidate its operations at one site.

`They’re going to have to “land-store” them, there’s no doubt about that,’ said John Large, a nuclear consultant. He added that it would make sense to bring all the vessels to one site for their 1,500-tonne reactor compartments to be cut out in a `top and tailing’ operation for storage in a suitable facility ashore. The US Navy has been doing this for the last six years.

Any attempt to move the submarines is likely to meet with political problems. The Irish government, for instance, would certainly seek to ban their transport through the Irish Sea.

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