Scottish submarine berths suspended following ‘inadequate’ emergency exercises

Three recent exercises to test nuclear emergency planning arrangements in the event of an accident on board one of the Royal Navy’s nuclear powered submarines have failed to meet standards set by Government safety regulators.

As a result, nuclear submarines have been temporarily banned from berthing in two Scottish lochs.

Details of the difficulties encountered during the the exercises – which took place in Scotland in March and April 2013 – were reported in the ‘Daily Record‘ newspaper.

The Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator has suspended submarine operational berths at Loch Goil, near HM Naval Base Clyde, and Loch Ewe in Wester Ross, until concerns raised during the exercises have been addressed.

According to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), Exercise Strathport, which took place to simulate an emergency on a submarine berthed at Loch Goil on 17 April 2013, “was deemed an inadequate demonstration” of safety arrangements because of shortfalls in the Navy’s safety plan.

The Navy now has to improve the emergency plan for the berth, and the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR), which assessed the exercise alongside ONR, has barred use of the berth by submarines until the exercise has been successfully re-run.

Exercise Sheetbend, which took place on 21 March to test emergency arrangements at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport, where Trident nuclear weapons are stored, also failed to satisfy safety regulators.  The exercise was assessed as having “failed in a broad range of areas”, and DNSR has ordered the exercise to be repeated.

Exercise Highport, a test of safety arrangements for a submarine berthed at Loch Ewe which took place at the end of 2012, failed “due to an inadequate plan, communications, and facilities” according to ONR.  A repeat exercise which took place on 13 March once again failed to meet the necessary standards, and DNSR have withheld consent to use the berth until the Navy’s safety plan has been improved.

Emergency exercises at the Loch Ewe berth have repeatedly failed to meet their objectives, and submarines have not visited the berth since 2008, following suspension of the berth by DNSR.

The Ministry of Defence says it is “taking steps to address the issues” raised by regulators following the exercises.

As well as routine operational berths at Naval dockyards where nuclear submarines are based and repaired, the Navy also has a set of informal berths at civil ports and remote lochs around the UK, which submarines occasionally visit.  Other approved berths for submarines are located overseas in the Falkland Islands, Diego Garcia, and at Naval bases in the USA and elsewhere.

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