Revealed: Nuclear Hazards Lurk in Britain’s Trident Subs via The National Interest

Is the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent, the Trident ballistic missile submarine program, worth keeping?

For the British Parliament and much of the media, the problem is mainly the vast amounts of money spent to keep it going. According to the U.K. Ministry of Defense, the program’s total cost is £15-20 billion. Anti-nuclear campaigners give a figure of around £100 billion, give or take. At least, that’s how much it should rack up in costs over its forty-year lifespan.

However, what is less talked about is how both the submarines and the bases that maintain them have suffered from a series of glaring safety mishaps.


Between 2008 and 2013, the Ministry of Defense recorded a total of 316 “nuclear safety incidents.” This overarching categorization includes everything from radioactive contamination to failing to follow standard safety protocols.

Another ministry report released two years prior gave a more detailed breakdown of safety breaches at Faslane. According to its findings, detailed in the Scottish newspaper The Herald, three quarters of the 262 incidents recorded between 2008 and 2012 were due to human error.


The most frightening of these accidents was the loss of power to the “nuclear ring” reactor cooling system of one submarine for 90 minutes. Had power not been restored, such an incident could have had potentially catastrophic consequences resulting in a major nuclear incident.

The dockyard is within walking distance of the city of Plymouth, home to around 250,000 people. Most of these residents would be in danger in the event of a reactor meltdown.

In 2011, a previously classified document authored by the base’s ex-safety regulator Commodore Andrew McFarlane warned that the reactors powering nuclear submarines based at Devonport were possibly unsafe.

All pressurized water reactors are potentially vulnerable to a structural failure of the primary circuit causing rapid boiling off most of the cooling water. This results in the failure of the fuel cladding and the release of highly radioactive fission products outside the reactor core. While further containment provided by the submarine’s hull may contain the majority of the material inside the submarine, some leakage is likely to occur and, in any event, the radioactive “shine” from the submarine poses a significant risk to life to those in close proximity, and a public safety hazard to those out to 1.5 [kilometers] from the submarine.

That would put almost a third of the population of Plymouth in harm’s way in the event of an accident.

Read more at Revealed: Nuclear Hazards Lurk in Britain’s Trident Subs


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