Plans submitted for new radioactive waste treatment plant at Faslane submarine base

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has submitted a planning application for construction of a new radioactive waste treatment plant at the Faslane nuclear submarine base to Argyll and Bute Council.

The  plant will replace existing facilities at the Clyde naval base and will treat and dispose of solid and liquid radioactive wastes from submarine nuclear reactors.  Some wastes from the plant will be discharged into the Gareloch and others will be held on-site for considerable periods of time before, during, and after processing.

The planning application requests permission to construct a Nuclear Support Hub building on a concrete podium, with an access ramp constructed over the Gareloch and associated on-shore buildings at HM Naval Base Clyde, Faslane.

The new plant will be housed in a two-storey building 45 metres long and 31 metres wide, with a design life of 50 years.  Construction is scheduled to begin in January 2016 and finish in April 2018.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and nuclear safety regulators have insisted that the MoD must upgrade the ageing waste facilities at Faslane following a series of leaks of radioactive effluent into the Gareloch in 2004, 2007 and 2008.  In November 2007, following an unauthorised radioactive discharge from HMS Superb, SEPA wrote to the MOD saying “SEPA wishes to express its concern that such an accident occurs and considers it to demonstrate inadequate radioactive waste management at HMNB Clyde”.

The planning application states: “The existing effluent treatment and disposal process is effective but nearing the end of its life and it requires to be replaced with a facility which will utilise modern technology and will reduce the levels of radioactivity in the effluent discharges into the Gareloch.”

The proposed waste treatment arrangements are based, to a large extent, on current practice.  Although effluent treatment standards will improve following construction of the new plant, there will be an overall increase in the amounts of radioactive waste that are due to be handled at the Clyde base.

The amount of radioactive waste treated and emitted from the base will rise over future years because the number of nuclear-powered submarines based there is scheduled to increase.  HMNB Clyde will become the Royal Navy’s sole submarine operating base from 2020 and Trafalgar class submarines currently based at Devonport are scheduled to transfer to Faslane.

A spokesperson for the MoD said that discharges from the new facility would be below specified limits, which are being reduced for the Clyde base.

The spokesperson said: “The MoD is making the application to replace existing facilities, achieving operational efficiencies, and a reduction of the nuclear footprint of HMNB Clyde” but refused to say how much the new facility would cost “due to commercial sensitivities in ensuring competitive responses to the tender process”.

At the time of writing over 600 objections had been submitted to Argyll and Bute Council in response to the planning application.

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