Devonport: Living next to a nuclear submarine graveyard via BBC

They were once at the vanguard of the UK’s Cold War effort but much of Britain’s former nuclear submarine fleet now lies rusting in Devonport dockyard with its radioactive cargo still intact. But how dangerous is it to live next to a nuclear graveyard?

In a housing estate near Plymouth, mother-of-one Christelle Gilbert confesses she is more than a little worried about her next-door neighbours – 12 retired nuclear submarines.

Two months ago, the latest arrival – HMS Tireless – sailed into the base. Like seven of the hulks already there, the Ministry of Defence is still unable to remove her nuclear fuel and four more subs are expected to arrive in the next eight years.


“They need to get rid of the submarines, it’s disgusting that it is taking so long,” said Ms Gilbert.

“It’s just too long for the submarines to be sitting there as a potential threat to the city. It’s a lack of responsibility on the government’s part not top get them moved.


A former Devonport worker, Ian Avent, who still lives in the area, said he was also concerned about safety.

“There are three primary schools within spitting distance of the dockyard,” he said. “There has got to be a foolproof process and the dismantling worries me.

“We have had rail trucks going off the track at the dockyard. Luckily they didn’t have fuel rods on. If contractors are doing the work I fear they could cut corners.”

The queue of nuclear submarines waiting to have their fuel disposed of began in 2002 when the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR), then called the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, told the MoD the Devonport facilities did not meet modern standards.

This has been compounded by the fact the UK does not yet have a suitable facility for disposing of the subs’ reactors, which means that those subs that have been defueled cannot yet be dismantled.


There are about 25 tonnes of radioactive waste – steel which has become radioactive – in the reactors of each decommissioned submarine.

But dismantling cannot take place until there is an agreement on where to take the waste material – and negotiations are still ongoing.

Five possible interim storage sites have now been selected, at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire, which are owned by the MoD, Sellafield in Cumbria, Chapelcross in Dumfriesshire, and Capenhurst in Cheshire.


Environmentalists Greenpeace are also highly critical of the government.

“If you operate nuclear submarines you are going to have a problem in dealing with the risks and legacy of nuclear waste – that is something that successive governments have failed to admit, and prepare for,” said spokesman Shaun Bernie.

“There are major risks with the current policy of storing retired nuclear submarines awaiting decommissioning – the overall problem being that the UK has failed to identify a long term storage disposal option for nuclear waste and that this problem will not be solved within the coming decades.

“Dismantling and removal of radioactive components from submarines at Devonport in addition to hazards such as radioactive releases into the environment will further turn Devonport into a de facto nuclear disposal site.”

Read more at Devonport: Living next to a nuclear submarine graveyard

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