SCOTLAND has been chosen for the pilot project to break up some of Britain’s old nuclear submarines, prompting fears it could become a dumping ground for radioactive waste.
Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials will test the removal of reactors in Rosyth, but politicians and anti-nuclear campaigners have hit out at the plans, fearing nuclear waste will be dumped in the area.
A total of 27 submarines are to be dismantled at UK naval bases, with one at Rosyth the first to be cut up.
The Fife yard has been home to the old vessels for years, but concerns have been raised that the site could become a toxic dump after the MoD ordered the “demonstration of the radioactive waste removal process”.
However, the pilot will not go ahead until a storage facility for the waste is identified and further consultation is undertaken, expected to start next year.
SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson MP said: “The Ministry of Defence’s approach to nuclear safety in Scotland clearly leaves a lot to be desired.
“Instead of experimenting with cutting up these submarines and worrying about the consequences later, the MoD needs to put a credible plan in place for what to do with the radioactive parts of these subs before it begins work.”
The Nuclear Submarine Forum, a coalition of pressure groups, has called for an end to building such vessels until a proper way of dealing with the resulting waste is found.
Jane Tallents of the forum, said: “Communities and local councils close to the Rosyth and Devonport have said clearly that the dockyards are not suitable sites for the storage of radio- active waste from submarine dismantling. We will be watching the MoD to ensure they stick to their promise that no radioactive waste will be removed from submarines until a storage solution has been agreed.”
There are seven retired vessels understood to be at Rosyth: Britain’s first nuclear submarine, HMS Dreadnought, HMS Churchill, HMS Resolution, HMS Repulse, HMS Renown, HMS Revenge and HMS Swiftsure. Another eight are in Devonport, in south-west England, including the Churchill-class HMS Conqueror, which sank the Belgrano during the Falklands War in 1982.
More vessels are due for decommissioning, bringing the total to at least 27.
Minister of state for defence equipment, support and technology, Philip Dunne, said the most radioactive part of a submarine – the 70-tonne reactor pressure vessel – will be removed intact and stored whole.
He added that an interim storage site for “intermediate level waste” – the classification for the fuel that once powered the nuclear vessels – could be found in any “UK nuclear licensed and authorised sites that might be suitable”.
More than 1200 people were consulted before the MoD made the decision, said a spokeswoman.
The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) regulates the disposal of nuclear waste in Scotland, as laid out under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993. The MoD is largely exempt from the act, but insisted it would work with Sepa on the pilot at Rosyth.
A Sepa spokeswoman said: “Now that Rosyth has been selected, we will require any radioactive waste generated at Rosyth to be properly disposed of.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government declined to comment, directing The Scotsman instead to the SNP.