Report warns that MoD nuclear safety is deteriorating

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The safety of the MoD's nuclear programmes is under threat in the medium term from a lack of finance and suitably competent staff, according to the Defence Nuclear Environment and Safety Board (DNESB), which oversees nuclear and radiological safety and environmental protection in the MoD.

The Board's annual report for 2010, obtained by NIS under the Freedom of Information Act, charts a deterioration in military nuclear safety standards as spending cuts become “yet more painful” and warns that although levels of nuclear safety are currently "acceptable”, there are “potentially significant risks “ to the MoD's nuclear programmes, with the situation deteriorating since 2009 because of an adverse trend in resources and constraints on regulatory capacity.

The report warns that the number of incidents at nuclear sites remains "too high", posing a "risk to the workforce and public safety and to the environment, in both short and medium term".

It says that measures to address the shortage of nuclear competent personnel in the Royal Navy, among MOD civilians, and in defence contractors may be insufficient to tackle the problem, with plans to reduce the MoD workforce “obviously pulling in an opposite direction to the current shortfall in resource”.  Pressure to reduce defence resources means that this issue is “now getting progressively worse rather than being steady”.  The Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator, responsible for day-to-day regulation of the military nuclear programme, is under-staffed and faces “considerable challenges in maintaining the necessary level of corporate competence”.

The Strategic Defence and Security Review decision to delay the in-service date of the successor to the current generation of Trident nuclear weapons “will present safety justification challenges” and plans to extend the lives of Vanguard class submarines “will particularly need to address the maintenance of the reactor plant safety justification”.  Safety management arrangements for Rolls Royce, designer of the new reactor proposed for the successor submarine, are identified as an “emerging issue”.

The report also highlights continuing delays in dealing with MoD's radioactive legacy.  A Decommissioning and Disposal Strategy for MoD radioactive wastes was scheduled to be published in summer 2011, but funding has not been allocated to meet the Ministry's radioactive liabilities.

Download a copy of the report here: