Warnings over nuclear sub leaks

By Domenica Goduto

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) has expressed concerns over multiple safety lapses at a naval base near Faslane which resulted in radioactive coolant leaking into the Firth of Clyde on three occasions.

The environmental watchdog is concerned over the breaches of procedure at HM Naval Base Clyde that resulted in the leaks and said it would consider shutting down the base if it had the power.

The incidents were revealed in a Ministry of Defence report which was revealed under the Freedom of Information Act. The report characterised the incidents as a “recurring theme.”

However, no formal legal action can be taken as military installations are not subject to the usual laws governing nuclear sites. Sepa has already issued a letter of complaint and an enforcement notice.

The submarine fleet at Faslane includes vessels carrying Trident nuclear missiles as well as nuclear-powered vessels. Leaks occurred in 2004, 2007 and 2008.

One incident in August 2007 involved the nuclear-powered sub HMS Superb, which discharged potentially contaminated water into Gare Loch. In February 2008, a tank in the HMS Torbay’s reactor overflowed into the same loch.

A spokesperson for the MoD noted that “The dicharges into the Gare Loch had no environmental consequences.

“The MoD is a responsible nuclear operator and informed the appropriate regulatory authorities.

“We commissioned an independent study into the facilities and practices at HM Naval Base Clyde and an improvement plan is currently under way to ensure modern standards and best practice at the base.”

Sepa says that although the environmental consequences in these instances were minor, there are still concerns that proper procedure was not followed.

Following the 2007 incident, the agency was not notified of the leak for six days.