Nuclear submarine programme should be considered in Fukushima review, says NIS

Nuclear Information Service is calling for the Royal Navy's nuclear propulsion programme to be included within the scope of the Health and Safety Executive's review of the UK nuclear industry following the Fukushima nuclear accident.

The UK's nuclear submarines are powered by pressurised water reactors (PWR) but, according to an official report, the Navy's nuclear reactor programme “currently falls short of current relevant good practice.

NIS has written to Mike Weightman, HM Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations, to point out that the Navy's nuclear programme is probably an area of higher risk than the civil nuclear sector yet receives far less scrutiny of its operations.

As well as comparing poorly to benchmarks from the civil nuclear sector, activities such as shiplift operations, power range testing at dockyard berths in urban areas at Barrow and Devonport, and combat operations pose unique risks to Naval nuclear reactors which are not experienced in the civil sector.

The current generation of Naval PWR powers the Trafalgar, Vanguard, and Astute class submarines which are scheduled to remain in service for many years to come.

NIS has asked Mike Weightman to consider the risks associated with nuclear powered  submarines as part of his review and report to ministers on whether these risks justify the continued operation of the Navy's submarine fleet.  In order to minimise these risks, NIS is recommending removing defence exemptions from the legislation which governs the nuclear industry; bringing the secretive Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator into the newly formed Office for Nuclear Regulation to form a single regulatory regime; and allocating more resources to regulation of the Navy's nuclear programme.

NIS's letter to Dr Weightman also highlights the need for a change to the probabilistic risk assessment approach to nuclear regulation, and more rigorous testing of emergency plans for nuclear sites.

Mike Weightman has been asked by the energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne, to examine the lessons that could be learned from the Japanese accident.  He has invited all those with technical information about the accident in Japan and thoughts about lessons that can be learnt to enhance nuclear safety in the UK to contribute to the review.

Download a copy of our letter to Dr Weightman here: