PRESS RELEASE issued 14 Ferbuary 2006
Navy use nuclear accident exercise to try to reopen commercial ports to nuclear submarines
Nuclear submarines have not used Southampton commercial docks since July 2000 and have no real need to do so again, since naval bases at Portsmouth and Plymouth have appropriate “Z Berths”. Liverpool Z Berth has been in abeyance for many years and previous berths in Cardiff, Hull and Tilbury have all been closed since the 1980s.
The present proposal to allow access again depends on the City Council's ability to provide a workable safety plan. The so-called Sontonsafe plan is to be tested on 22nd February 2006, mainly in a tabletop exercise, code named ‘Foxwater06’ by the Navy. The Council and Emergency Services concede that only limited protection from radiation can be offered and that the main advice will be to take shelter, closing windows and air conditioning. This highly controversial issue affects the tourist trade, leisure, businesses, education institutions and the general public, especially vulnerable groups.
In recent years the RN has changed its reason for seeking to reopen old Z berths. Previously, ‘rest recreation and recruitment’ was the reason given, whereas now it is for ‘operational reasons’. SCANS are concerned that this is a legal technicality to try counter their valid legal arguments. HSE’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) is not empowered to limit naval operations, however unsafe they may be, whereas it has more clout over courtesy visits. NII is the adjudicator of the coming exercise. Another worry is that Southampton could be being used as a test case, to try to get access to commercial ports both here and abroad?
“. The seriousness of exposure to radiation is well known. What is not so well known is that unlike a fixed site nuclear installation, there is no need for people to be put at this unnecessary risk here and the precautionary principle should apply, In plain English – keep nuclear ships out of busy commercial docks."
Daivd Hoadley, Chair, SCANS
Lastly, although the Navy has given assurances that a damaged or nuclear-armed British submarine would not seek access to Southampton docks, no such assurance can be give for foreign boats. The last submarine to come here was the USS Oklahoma in July 2000.
Notes to Editors
1. X Berths are submarine docking berths where no reactor repairs or maintenance are permitted. X Berths are submarine berths where reactor maintenance is carried out. Southampton and Liverpool Z Berths are not available to the Royal Navy as they have no approved safety scheme. A proposal to re-open the Z berth at Portland was been put to Dorset County Council in December 2005, but this would also require the local council to organise a safety plan.
2. Soutampton City Council Nuclear Accident Response can be found at:
3. List of all Z and X Berths: http://www.nuclearinfo.org/submarines/xandzberths/article/43