Public views on disposal of nuclear submarine waste published by Ministry of Defence

The results of a public consultation programme on the location of a storage site for radioactive waste from decommissioned nuclear submarines have been published by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The MoD consultation report summarises points made during the consultation process and pledges that MoD is “committed to taking all the views received during this public consultation into account” as it makes decisions on the waste storage site.

The consultation took place as part of the MoD's Submarine Dismantling Project for disposal of 27 nuclear-powered submarines at the end of their service with the Royal Navy, and asked the public and local communities for their views on the selection of an interim storage site for intermediate level radioactive waste from defuelled submarines.  The site will store radioactive reactor pressure vessels from the submarines, which the government intends will eventually be transferred to a Geological Disposal Facility which it plans to build to hold the UK's radioactive waste.

Five sites have been shortlisted as potential storage sites for the waste:  AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield in Berkshire; Capenhurst in Cheshire; Chapelcross in Dumfriesshire and Sellafield in Cumbria.

The report outlines feedback received during the consultation and summarises the views of consultees on a number of controversial issues which arose during the process.

In particular, it highlights a number of concerns relating to the possibility of storing waste from submarines at the Chapelcross nuclear site in Scotland.  Scottish Government ministers had objected to the inclusion of Chapelcross on the shortlist of candidate sites at the time of the consultation, and have recently repeated their concerns.

The report describes the Scottish Government's opposition as a “political position” rather than a policy matter, but acknowledges that “the Scottish Government’s opposition may make the choice of Chapelcross problematic”, and that the Scottish Government's role in the planning process “might pose risks” to the Submarine Dismantling Project's programme.  Uncertainty about the potential for Scottish independence in the longer term was also flagged up as a factor that might impact upon the Submarine Dismantling Programme.

The report also reveals that the Environment Agency advised MoD that “AWE Burghfield might present the greatest challenge in terms of flood risk management” as a storage site.  Flooding has been a significant problem at the AWE Burghfield site, with serious flooding incidents taking place there in 2000 and 2007.  Earlier this year AWE submitted a planning application to construct a flood alleviation scheme to help protect the site from flooding.

MoD acknowledges the need for further consultation during the programme, accepting that “most respondents emphasised the importance of ongoing communication and openness”.  Shortfalls in existing arrangements for public engagement at MoD nuclear sites were highlighted by a number of consultees who thought that MoD engagement with local communities “was currently inadequate” and pointed out that NGOs are generally not represented on Local Liaison Committees for MoD sites.

The consultation ran for over three months from November 2014 until February 2015 and heard views on the suitability of the shortlisted sites for submarine waste storage, the process and criteria used to select a site, and the Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Submarine Dismantling Project.

MoD received around 170 written responses to the consultation and identified over 2300 individual feedback points “which reflect a wide spectrum of views from a range of stakeholders”.

Work to assess the suitability of the five storage sites is underway and a final decision on which site will store the radioactive waste will be made in 2016.


Declaration of interest: Nuclear Information Service participated in the Ministry of Defence Submarine Dismantling Project consultation as a consultee.  Di McDonald, Board member of Nuclear Information Service, is a member of the Advisory Group for the Ministry of Defence Submarine Dismantling Project.

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