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Saturday, 23 May 2015

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Barrow built sub to be refuelled after radiation leak discovered

Britain's oldest nuclear submarine, the Barrow built HMS Vanguard, is to have its reactor refuelled at a cost of £120 million after a test reactor operating in Scotland was found to have a small internal leak of radiation, Philip Hammond has told the Commons.

HMS Vanguard

A further £150 million will be spent on equipment to ensure other nuclear submarines can also be refuelled if needed.

The Defence Secretary said the test nuclear reactor in Dounreay had been run for longer and at higher intensity than the reactors installed on the Vanguard and Astute class submarines to identify any use or age-related restrictions in the design.

He told MPs today that in January 2012, radiation was found in the cooling water around the test reactor - something which would not normally happen.

A microscopic breach in metal cladding around the test reactor's core is thought to be to blame but Mr Hammond said it was not clear how this came about.

The refuelling of HMS Vanguard will take place during its next scheduled "deep maintenance period", due to last three and a half years from 2015.

Mr Hammond said: "This is the responsible option. Replacing the core on a precautionary basis at the next opportunity, rather than waiting to see if the core needs to be replaced at a later date which would mean returning Vanguard for a period of unscheduled deep maintenance, potentially putting at risk the resilience of our ballistic missile submarine operations."

Mr Hammond told MPs there was no sign that the problem had ever occurred in one of the reactors installed on a British submarine and emphasised the confidence of the Ministry of Defence that such a problem would be immediately detected.

And he moved to reassure the Commons that the fault in the reactor at Dounreay did not present any safety risk.

The Defence Secretary said: "These low levels of radioactivity are a normal product of a nuclear reaction that takes place within the fuel but they would not normally enter the cooling water.

"This water is contained within the sealed reactor circuit and I can reassure the House there has been no detectable radiation leak from that sealed circuit.

"Indeed, against the International Atomic Energy Agency's measurement scale for nuclear-related events this issue is classed Level 0, described as 'below scale - no safety significance'."

Mr Hammond said the test reactor had been shut down after the fault was detected and both the independent Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator and Scottish Environmental Protection Agency had been informed.

The test reactor was restarted in November 2012 and had continued to operate safely, he said. It is due to be decommissioned in 2015 but Mr Hammond said this could be brought forward if there are lessons to be learned about the breach.


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