Babcock International Group, operators of the Rosyth Royal Dockyard, have applied for formal consent to begin work on decommissioning seven out-of-service nuclear powered submarines currently held in storage at the dockyard.
The application has been made to the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the government's nuclear regulator, which has commenced a three month public consultation on the proposals.
Rosyth Royal Dockyard Ltd (RDRL – the Babcock subsidiary company which is licensed to operate the dockyard) has applied for permission to remove nuclear reactor compartments from each of the redundant submarines before dispatching the remainder of the hull for disposal as scrap metal. The company has prepared an environmental statement outlining the process which would be used to dismantle the submarines and the potential impacts.
Under the proposals the reactor pressure vessel and the primary shield tank – the main radioactively contaminated components in the reactor compartment, which qualify as intermediate level radioactive waste – would be removed from submarines and then transported to an interim storage site, with the eventual aim of consignment to the Geological Disposal Facility which the government is planning to construct for the disposal of radioactive waste. High level waste in the form of spent reactor fuel has already been removed from the submarines.
Babcock has assessed most of the environmental impacts of the dismantling process, including radioactive discharges, as “negligible”. The assessment concludes that there will be positive economic benefits from the work and that minimal nuisance will be caused by extra traffic generated by the project travelling to and from the dockyard. The large reactor pressure vessels cut from the submarines would be placed in containers and transported as 'Abnormal Indivisible Loads' along the M90 and stored whole at the interim storage site.
The Ministry of Defence has prepared a short list of five candidate sites for storage of intermediate level waste from submarine dismantling. The five sites will be announced next month, followed by a public consultation programme and announcement in 2016 of the site selected for storage.
The Ministry of Defence has undertaken not to commence submarine dismantling before a storage site for intermediate level waste has been agreed, although the Rosyth proposals would allow submarine dismantling to commence in January 2016 – as soon as a decision on the waste storage site has been made. Dismantling would commence with work on a first 'demonstrator' submarine, with the process subsequently refined on the basis of lessons learnt from the demonstration.
Consultation on the Rosyth proposals will end on 21 April 2014 and details of how to participate can be found on the Health and Safety Executive website.