Navy Brings Submarine To Southampton For Political Reasons

Solent Coalition Against Nuclear Ships


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PRESS RELEASE                                                                             3rd August 2006




Naval chiefs consider that risks associated with berthing a nuclear submarine in Southampton Dock are worth taking for political reasons. In a recent letter1 to SCANS solicitors, Public Interest Lawyers, spokesman Nick Kelsall from Whale Island Fleet Headquarters states that ”visits to UK ports by RN warships, including nuclear submarines, increase public confidence in defence”.

" I don’t understand how public confidence is increased by berthing submarines with nuclear reactors so close to tens of thousands of people. Neither the MoD nor the Government have justified why the public interest in berthing these submarines here outweighs the obvious health and safety risks and I doubt whether they could do so. If everything is as they say why don’t they make public a proper written justification exercise?"
                                                Phil Shiner. Solicitor, Public Interest Lawyers


“This new reason to explain why the Navy insist on using Southampton’s


commercial port for a reactor-powered submarine seems counterproductive since taking an unnecessary risk with public health does not inspire our  confidence in their judgment.”

                                    Nina Lambert, Secretary of SCANS

The RN statement comes at a time when the government’s political judgement in military matters is under great strain in relation to the Israeli war on Lebanon, and British troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Navy has the unenviable task of trying to bolster public support for the military and overcome the disquiet felt by many ordinary people about the Prime Minister’s poor decision-making in defence policy.

The other reason given for bringing a submarine right down Southampton Water is that it is for ‘operational reasons’, yet this has not been satisfactorily explained. Nor does this port offer the Navy its other motive, “flexibility around the entire UK coastline”. There are no Z Berths where submarines can dock on the east or west coast of England, yet there are already two on the south coast at Portsmouth and Plymouth naval bases. Scotland has Z Berths in the Clyde at Faslane and Coulport, with a few off-shore anchorages in the Western Isles. The only other Z Berths are in

Gibraltar, Bermuda and Diego Garcia, midway between Africa and Asia in the Indian Ocean. Southampton’s reception of HMS Tireless seems to be a political test of how much communities will tolerate. After a six-year battle to get submarine access to Southampton Docks, the RN plan to move on to Portland and Liverpool, where opposition to re-opening a Z Berth is expected to be fierce.

This is not the first time that Southampton has been at nuclear risk. In the 1960s, Professor Ralph Scurlock won the argument against installing a nuclear reactor at Southampton University, on the grounds that “reactors are too risky for urban areas”.2

Perhaps the worst aspect of this affair is the way in which the City Council has been used to prop up the Ministry of Defence charm offensive. The RN letter1 continues, “the nuclear accident exercise Foxwater 2006 was a satisfactory test, valid for up to 3 years from 22nd February 2006”. Then goes on to say that the City Council review of the plan “does not in any way invalidate the currently approved and issued arrangements”.  Does this mean that the Council and the Emergency Services have been wasting their time? SCANS will be calling on the Full City Council Committee to reconsider its policy, rather than leave it to the Cabinet Committee to decide if they can really protect the people of Southampton in the event of an nuclear accident.

Notes for Editors

  1. Letter to Public Interest Lawyers from Nick Kelsall Fleet HQ Whale Island, Portsmouth. 25th July 2006.
  2. Southampton University “Viewpoint” report. 20th March 2006 Page 9

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