NIS Update: May 2012


Contracts worth £350m have been signed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for design of 'Successor' Trident replacement submarines.

In a written Parliamentary statement Peter Luff, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support, and Technology, announced that contracts had been awarded for the first 18 months of work on the design and assessment phase of the Successor submarine programme, representing the start of a rolling programme of work on this phase of the programme.  

MoD has signed a collaborative agreement for delivery of the programme with the three key suppliers in the UK submarine industry, BAE Systems, Babcock and Rolls-Royce.  The agreement is part of the Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme, a partnership between MoD and the three industry partners which aims to cut the costs of construction and operation of the Royal Navy's submarines.

The largest of the three contracts, worth £328m, has been awarded to BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines for work on the overall submarine design at the company's main offices in Barrow-in-Furness.  Keynsham-based Babcock International has been awarded a £15 million contract to support the design of the submarines by providing through-life support expertise to ensure that the new design adequately considers and addresses in-service constraints and experience.

More than £4m has been paid to Rolls-Royce plc, which will be responsible for the integration of the reactor design into the new submarine.

According to the MoD the contracts will sustain or create up to 1,900 jobs in the defence sector in the UK.

In May 2011, the MOD announced 'Initial Gate' approval for the assessment and design phase of the submarines, with an estimated total cost of £3bn. These latest contracts are part of the spending for this phase of the programme, during which MoD will focus on design and engineering activities for the submarines, the purchase of long lead items, preparation for production, technology development, and information and knowledge management.

The first Successor submarine is currently scheduled to be delivered in 2028, with the final 'Main Gate' decision on whether to construct the submarines due to be made in 2016.


Safety assessments conducted in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident have exposed the need for a wide range of further protective measures and studies to address inadequacies at defence nuclear sites, according to the government's nuclear safety regulator.

A 324 page report published by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) identifies 75 areas where further work is required to ensure that non‐power generating nuclear facilities are able to withstand extreme events such as  floods, fires, extreme weather, earthquakes and power failures.  33  of the report's findings cover the five site operators that are contracted to undertake work on behalf of the Ministry of Defence – AWE plc, Rolls‐Royce Marine Power Operations Ltd, BAE Systems Marine Ltd, Devonport Royal Dockyard Ltd, and Rosyth Royal Dockyard Ltd.

The report assesses the UK nuclear industry's arrangements for dealing with severe events such as the earthquake and tsunami which caused the Fukushima nuclear crisis.  Known as 'stress tests', the assessments follow an approach mandated by the European Council for all nuclear power plants in Europe, but extended by ONR to apply to all other types of nuclear licensed sites.

ONR concludes that “there is work to be done to make nuclear sites more resilient”, but that “no serious safety weaknesses have emerged”.  However, the significant detail underpinning the report's 75 findings sets out a substantial work programme, requiring site operators to bring arrangements for managing severe accidents and providing back-up for key systems and functions up to standards that ONR considers necessary.

Flooding and extreme weather events are highlighted as concerns at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE).  ONR concluded that “AWE has not adequately considered extreme weather events in the stress tests analysis for its sites”.  Although modelling of flood events predicted that no severe accident can result from flooding, twenty‐one of twenty‐seven buildings studied were predicted to suffer from internal flooding and significant flood depths were predicted for many emergency access routes.  AWE provided “insufficient information” on whether drainage systems would be able to cope with extreme weather events.

With regard to fire hazards, AWE had “not elaborated” on fault sequences initiated by fires that could lead to a loss of containment, resulting in “potentially significant” leaks of radioactivity.

Whilst AWE has the capacity to respond to emergencies at single facilities, ONR “is less confident in the capability of AWE’s emergency arrangements to respond to site emergencies arising from extreme external events that affect several facilities simultaneously, and which may include factors that impede accident management.”

At the Rolls-Royce plant at Raynesway, Derby, four buildings are considered to be vulnerable to failure following an earthquake, and the company has been directed to review whether equipment inside them is adequate to withstand a collapse.  The consequences of fire resulting from a seismic event or extreme weather had not been considered in Rolls-Royce's analysis of hazards, and only a limited numbers of extreme weather events were considered by the company.

Site emergency arrangements at Raynesway "do not display high levels of resilience to severe external events" and, according to ONR, "the emergency response buildings are susceptible to flooding and damage by earthquakes, and the site power distribution networks are not seismically qualified nor flood protected."

BAE Systems has been warned that “on-site emergency control facilities may be lost” during a severe event at its shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness, and the company has been told to consider the provision of a hardened robust emergency control centre.  Only “limited information” was provided on the risk of back-up cooling arrangements for reactors in submarines under construction at Barrow, and the company must review the adequacy of back-up electricity supplies.

Flooding is flagged as a concern at Barrow and also at the Devonport Royal Dockyard, both located on the coast.  At Barrow dock walls are judged vulnerable to collapse in the event of a flood exceeding a 1 in 100 year return period, and Devonport Royal Dockyard has been instructed to review its safety cases to confirm that the effect of rapid flooding of the dock from a failure of the watertight boundary is adequately considered.

ONR makes a number of recommendations relating to the handling and management of submarine reactor fuel at Devonport.  The site operators have been asked to review the response required in the event of a loss of shielding of stored fuel, and also to demonstrate the comprehensiveness of response measures to an emergency involving the movements of nuclear fuel on the site.  The dockyard must review its capability for severe accident management in cases of simultaneous submarine reactor core damage accidents, and has also been told to assess the possible effects of fire following a seismic event.

The Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator is said to be undertaking similar stress test assessments for Ministry of Defence nuclear operations which do not fall under the jurisdiction of ONR's licensing regime.


Vienna hosted this year’s Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee meeting (PrepCom) between 30 April and 11 May, with 110 of the 189 governments which are parties to the Treaty and over 150 representatives from international civil society participating in the meeting.

Observers generally agreed that the PrepCom's procedural business went smoothly under the guidance of Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia, who chaired the meeting, with agendas and procedural reports all adopted without controversy.

In terms of substance, the Non-Aligned Movement and civil society analysts raised concerns that progress towards nuclear disarmament must advance at a far quicker pace, highlighting the gap between the rhetoric of the nuclear weapon states and their actual achievements in meeting the Treaty's requirement to make progress towards disarmament.  The head of the Egyptian delegation, Sameh Aboul-Enein, expressed “deep concern at the continued lack of meaningful progress in the field of nuclear disarmament”.

Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will observed that the action plan of the 2010 NPT Review Conference set out clear disarmament objectives for the nuclear weapon states, yet at this year's PrepCom the parties to the Treaty 'neither conducted a thorough review of implementation-so-far of the 2010 action plan nor did they utilise all of the time at their disposal to begin exploring options for moving forward'.  

Acheson considers that only 5 out of 22 actions agreed in 2010 can so far be considered to have been implemented, whilst all the nuclear weapon states have commenced programmes to modernise their nuclear weapons.

Jo Adamson, the UK's Ambassador to the NPT, affirmed the UK government’s commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons whilst simultaneously arguing that 'only a credible nuclear capability can provide the necessary ultimate guarantee for our national security'.  Both the Russian and Chinese delegations warned that unilateral development of anti-ballistic missile programmes by the USA would effectively preclude multilateral nuclear disarmament.

Other noteworthy matters covered at the PrepCom included the planned Helsinki Conference on a Middle East WMD Free Zone. Finnish facilitator Jaakko Laajava produced a well-received report, yet there is still no agreement on dates or an agenda for the conference, with Israel and Iran both refusing to confirm their participation. Elsewhere, Switzerland led a 16-nation statement highlighting the crucial humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons and disarmament.  Norway announced in April that it will convene a conference on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons in 2013.

NPT PrepComs meet for two weeks in each of the three years leading up to a five-yearly Review Conference (RevCon) for the treaty, where the nations which have signed the treaty assess progress and agree on future steps they wish to take to help meet the treaty's goals.


Participants in the UK-Norway Initiative on nuclear disarmament verification gave an update on lessons learnt from the project in a presentation at the recent Non-Proliferation Treaty PrepCom meeting in Vienna.

The UK – Norway Initiative is a bilateral collaboration between UK and Norwegian technical experts which aims to address the technical and procedural challenges of verifying nuclear warhead dismantlement.

The project commenced in 2007 and presentations at previous NPT meetings have outlined work which has taken place to develop 'information barrier' technology and establish a 'managed access' regime to allow inspectors to undertake verification visits to nuclear weapon sites.

At this year's PrepCom researchers involved in the UK – Norway Initiative reported on a managed access exercise which took place at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in UK, with Norwegian participants playing the role of visiting inspectors.  This scenario allowed the hosts to place a heavy emphasis on security as a first priority, working with inspectors who were relatively inexperienced in dealing with inspection activities.  A number of important lessons were learnt about the impact that security and safety concerns could have on verification inspections, and the exercise demonstrated that it should be possible for foreign Inspectors to access a high-security facility, although rigorous and highly structured inspection procedures would be required.

There was also a report back on a three day UK-Norway workshop on nuclear disarmament verification which occurred in December 2011. Policy and technical officials from 12 non-nuclear weapon states (Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Poland, Republic of Korea, Sweden, United Arab Emirates) were present at this meeting, as were representatives from the USA as 'expert delegates'. The key findings from the workshop were summarised as follows:

  • Most states parties to the NPT have the scientific and technical capabilities to undertake research and development in these areas.
  • Verification research is an opportunity for all States Parties to contribute to their NPT Article VI obligations.
  • Currently, the UK-Norway Initiative is only addressing a fraction of the technical areas necessary to achieve high confidence dismantlement verification, which in itself is only one part of the disarmament process.
  • Work will continue on UK-Norway Initiative with further reports at NPT meetings and new innovative efforts on verification research within the international community will be encouraged.



A Board of Inquiry conducted by the Royal Navy into the grounding of the nuclear powered submarine HMS Astute off the west coast of Scotland in October 2010 has found that the incident was the result of a series of errors and a lack of planning.

The £1bn nuclear-powered submarine was stuck for several hours on a silt bank off the Isle of Skye before being towed into deeper water by a coastguard tug, the Anglian Prince. But the submarine was later damaged after a collision with the same tug which had been sent to free it.

The Navy's investigation into the grounding of the submarine found that "the root causes of the grounding were non-adherence to correct procedures for the planning and execution of the navigation combined, with a significant lack of appreciation by the Officer of the Watch (OOW) of the proximity of danger.

"However, a number of additional causal factors were present, including some deficiencies with equipment".

The grounding was the culmination of a string of errors made during a night-time boat-to-boat training exercise.  The Board of Inquiry concluded that there was "no dedicated plan or briefing" for the transfer, and that the officer on the bridge was not using the correct radar, did not have a chart and was not used to navigating in the dark.

The lack of awareness and experience of the Officer of the Watch and his incomplete preparations before proceeding to the bridge were “the major causal factor” in the incident, but once Astute was stuck, senior officers failed to take the correct action because “the gentle nature of the grounding did not give any cause for immediate concern”.

The captain of the submarine at the time, Commander Andy Coles, was relieved of his command shortly after the incident. While no-one has been court martialed over the incident, the Navy said three officers had been disciplined. The cost of repairs to the submarine is believed to have run into hundreds of millions of pounds.

Rear Admiral Ian Corder, head of the submarine service, said he accepted all the report's findings and said he was confident the HMS Astute incident was not "indicative of wider failings" within the submarine service.



News from the Atomic Weapons Establishment


£1 billion a year is to be spent on operating and upgrading the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) over the next five years.

At the beginning of April the MoD agreed to continue with a further five year period of priced work within its 25 year contract with AWE Management Limited (AWEML) – the joint venture company contracted to manage and operate the AWE sites.

Under the new pricing arrangements spending at AWE will be around £1 billion per year over the five year period.  Around 40 per cent of the money will be invested in capital projects, including production and research facilities, and the remainder will be spent on operating and maintaining the Establishment.

The new arrangements take effect from 1 April 2013 and will run for five years until 31 March 2018, when a further period of priced work is scheduled to be agreed.  This is the fourth pricing period to date since the 25-year management and operation contract commenced on 1 April 2000.

The earnings and margin rate in the initial years of the new pricing period will be similar to those achieved in the initial years of the current period.  The contract is performance based, and includes incentives to encourage AWEML to save money

Spending at AWE has increased steadily since 2003-4, from around £300 million per year, to the current level of around £1 billion per year.  This level of spending looks set to be maintained over the remainder of the decade.

The spending represents a contracted agreement extending well beyond the date of the next election in 2015, committing a future government to meeting its financial obligation to AWEML regardless of any decision on the future of the UK's nuclear weapons programme.

Formed in 1998, AWEML is a joint venture company between Jacobs Engineering Group, Lockheed Martin and Serco which manages the Atomic Weapons Establishment through a government owned / contractor operated (GOCO) arrangement on behalf of the MoD.   AWE's sites and facilities remain in government ownership, but day-to-day management is contracted to AWEML.

According to the MOD, the programme of investment at AWE will ensure that the UK can maintain the existing Trident nuclear warhead in service for as long as necessary, and retain the capability to design and manufacture a replacement warhead should the government decide to do so.


The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has published the report of its Periodic Review of Safety for the AWE Aldermaston site.

The report outlines ONR's findings following a review of the facilities and services that provide safety functions in support of nuclear facilities, and assesses whether they meet modern safety standards.

ONR has conducted a number of Periodic Reviews of Safety for individual facilities at AWE, but this was the first site-wide review of safety since AWE was brought into the nuclear licensing regime in 1997.

Following a review of seven major safety functions, ONR concluded that the PRS identified no shortfalls with the potential to make the site unsafe.  However, “AWE’s initial PRS submission did not meet ONR’s expectations in a number of areas”, and ONR’s assessment “found deficiencies in AWE’s demonstration that some site support systems would remain adequate to deliver their safety functions throughout the period covered by the PRS”.

ONR identified 18 findings, and made 30 requirements for further work and AWE has agreed to prepare a work programme to address shortfalls and make the following improvements:

  • Enhance the site electrical distribution and supply systems.
  • Provide greater diversity for the site communications system.
  • Improve the justification of site fire fighting capability.
  • Develop a nuclear baseline in line with the nuclear industry code of practice to demonstrate organisational capability.

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