The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) Scotland Forum is concerned to hear that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is considering a potentially significant change in its plans to dismantle nuclear submarines located at Rosyth in Fife, as well as at Plymouth Devonport. These had originally been agreed upon by a wide amount of relevant stakeholders following one of the most extensive nuclear policy consultation processes to date.
The MOD’s Submarine Dismantling Project (SDP) was established to dismantle around 25 redundant nuclear powered submarines. The extensive consultation process began over 20 years ago and in its initial phases was full of rancour and disagreement. However, between 2012 – 2015 a well-run largely open and transparent consultation process, bringing in groups like the NFLA, the LGA Special Interest Nuclear Legacy Advisory Forum (NuLEAF), local non-governmental organisations, regulators and the nuclear industry came together to try and resolve many of the contentious issues. This led to a decision that the reactor pressure vessels would be ‘cut out’ of the submarines and then transported safely by road for interim storage at the Urenco nuclear site at Capenhurst in Cheshire.
It is understood that the MOD have a £3 million a year contract with Urenco for the site, but no intermediate level radioactive waste has yet been sent there from the demonstrator project based at Rosyth. (1)
In information provided to the NuLEAF meeting in Manchester of 22nd March, it was reported that the MOD were in discussion with nuclear regulators on a potential change to this policy, and had contracted the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to lead a consultation process on it. In contrast to the previous openness and transparency of the latter part of the SDP process, little else has been forthcoming from the MOD, and no direct communication has been provided to the NFLA, despite efforts to get further confirmation from both the MOD and the NDA.
NFLA are trying to seek clarification from the MOD, the NDA and nuclear regulators as to what the planned changes to managing this waste may be. Given the considerable financial resource, time and effort put in by many stakeholders with the MOD, the NFLA would be concerned over any significant changes to the project. It is aware that the local Council, NFLA member Fife Council, has also not been told of any of these proposed changes.
At a meeting of the ONR NGO Forum, the nuclear regulator noted its concerns at the slow pace of defueling each of the redundant submarines, which is an additional concern for the NFLA. The ONR also reported at this meeting on the ongoing regulatory issues they have had in the past couple of years with a number of defence nuclear sites, including Aldermaston and Devonport – NFLA too share the ONR’s concerns around the safety of a number of ageing defence nuclear sites. NFLA are also frustrated at the general lack of openness and transparency in the sector over such safety matters.
If there is any significant change to plans for submarine dismantling, NFLA, like other stakeholders would want to be fully consulted and consider relevant issues of worker and environmental safety. To spend so long on such an extensive and detailed consultation over many years, and then see significant public money spent on a waste solution that may now not be used, would be of real concern and frustration to the NFLA.
NFLA’s frustration with the MOD comes amidst additional local concern in Fife around further delays to the remediation of areas of the coastline around Dalgety Bay, where radioactive materials from radium dials (from the remains of fighter planes dumped at the site after the Second World War), continue to remain an environmental, health and public safety risk.
Radioactive particles were first discovered at the headland near Dalgety Bay Sailing Club as early as 1990. Previous studies of the coastline suggest such incinerated radioactive waste was dumped prior to 1959, when the nearby airbase HMS Merlin was decommissioned. After years of refusing to accept any liability for these materials, the Ministry of Defence was named as the polluter by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. The remediation plan for the site was agreed with local stakeholders, but it was confirmed in November 2018 that work will not even start in 2019 after the UK Government took longer to fully approve the remediation plan. Such work then will be delayed until 2020, some thirty years after the issue came to light. (2)
At the recent Dalgety Bay Community Council meeting the MOD have now told councillors that they are still awaiting ministerial approval to go to tender for the remediation works and have been waiting for a year. They have noted that without approval, timescales May slip another year to 2021. (3)
Both issues emphasise to the NFLA that the MOD is not dealing adequately with its radioactive waste legacy. There also remain real concerns that the MOD is moving away from the previously welcome openness and transparency which reflected most of the final stages of the SDP process.
NFLA Scotland Convener, Cllr Feargal Dalton added:
“NFLA Scotland is highly frustrated with the ongoing delays in resolving the radioactive waste issues at Rosyth, Devonport and Dalgety Bay. These appear to be due to real weaknesses in the implementation and approval processes in the Ministry of Defence. A solution to dealing with the radioactive waste from submarines took years to agree upon, so it is disappointing to say the least that the MOD is changing its mind without discussing this matter with the stakeholders it took so long to cultivate a good working relationship with. In terms of Dalgety Bay, NFLA has been calling for a resolution to this radioactive waste remediation issue for several years now. The MOD are going at a snail’s pace to resolve it, and I urge them to speed up that work. There could also be many other sites with similar issues to Dalgety Bay around the country so I urge them to investigate such sites as well, in cooperation with the environmental regulator SEPA.”
Fife’s NFLA representative and Dalgety Bay representative, Cllr David Barratt added:
“It’s extremely disappointing that an entirely avoidable delay has occurred at Dalgety Bay and even more frustrating that it is down to seemingly the issue sitting in someone’s email inbox. On the back of serious delays in dealing with the Ministry of Defence’s radioactive waste legacy contained at Rosyth and affecting Dalgety Bay, it is becoming increasingly clear that Brexit is not the only thing the UK government lack a credible plan for.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) NuLEAF report, 22nd March 2019
(2) The Courier.co.uk, 19th November 2018
(3) Information provided to the Dalgety Bay Community Council meeting, 1st April 2019