Southampton nuclear submarine visit puts public safety in jeopardy

An imminent visit by nuclear powered submarine HMS Torbay to Southampton Docks has been condemned by an international expert in submarine safety for placing public safety at risk.

HMS Torbay, one of the Royal Navy's oldest serving nuclear powered submarines, will visit Southampton Docks from Saturday 13 November until Tuesday 16 November on a public relations trip hosted by Southampton City Council. The submarine had originally been intended to arrive on Friday 12 November, but has been delayed as a result of bad weather.

However, Consulting Engineer John Large, who recently completed an in-depth review of classified Ministry of Defence (MoD) documents relating to nuclear submarine safety at Southampton on behalf of local environmental Group Solent Coalition Against Nuclear Ships (SCANS), has identified a secret MoD safety assessment which states that risks posed by older 'Trafalgar' class submarines such as HMS Torbay could result in an emergency on a far greater scale than the Royal Navy has planned for.   

John Large's review of nuclear safety arrangements for submarines visiting Southampton has revealed fundamental errors in the safety calculation of risk of a nuclear accident and radioactive release; strong disagreements between the MoD's own nuclear safety regulator and the Navy Command submarine operator; and inadequate or missing analysis of vital safety issues at the Eastern Docks.

The Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, responsible for regulating nuclear safety, has not reviewed key documents and the MoD's own internal safety regulator, despite expressing severe misgivings about the standards of the safety case for Southampton, has failed to impose any measures to restrict or control visits.

HMS Torbay is one of the Royal Navy's oldest serving nuclear powered submarines and has a chequered safety record, having grounded in the Eastern Mediterranean sea in April 2009 and been the cause of a radioactive leak into the Gareloch in Scotland in 2008.

A leaked briefing for members and officers of Southampton City Council (available below) reveals that homes within a 1.5km zone of the berth have received a public information leaflet advising them of the risks from visiting submarines, and that medication and other resources have been pre-distributed to 14 key locations, including two city schools and three nurseries which fall within the at-risk zone.  The heads of these schools and nurseries have had unspecified obligations and responsibilities placed on them by Southampton City Council for the duration of the submarine's visit.

John Large of Large & Associates, acting as consultants to SCANS, said: "I am really surprised that this visit is to take place when the MoD's own Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR) has been scathingly critical about the adequacy of the nuclear safety case presented for the Southampton berth”.

“The MoD regulators concluded that the approach to possible fire hazards was 'trivial and unsourced', that the estimate of the probability of an accident on a submarine was wrong by a factor of ten times, and that information needed to guarantee the supply of protective tablets to local people was based on census data which is twenty years out of date”.

“Ministry of Defence staff wrote that the 'conclusions presented in the Safety Statements are particularly weak', but, shockingly,  they have not lifted a finger to suspend submarine visits until these problems have been sorted out”.

SCANS Chair David Hoadley said: “At a time when vital services are facing the axe and everyone is having to tighten their belts because of cuts in spending, Southampton City Council and the Royal Navy should not be wasting taxpayers money and putting the public at risk for this needless public relations jolly.”  

“What advice has been given to schools and nurseries by the Council, and how exactly would they fulfil their obligations to protect children in the result of a radiation emergency?”

Download Southampton City Council's briefing on the submarine visit here:


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