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Saturday, 04 July 2015

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Red letter day for BAE Systems Barrow

A NEW submarine has gone nuclear at Barrow shipyard for the first time in more than a decade.


So called “power range testing” of the nuclear reactor aboard the first of class submarine, the future HMS Astute, is well underway.

Early indications are that BAE is pleased with the testing.

It is 11 years since Barrow shipyard engineers, working with the Ministry of Defence, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and the Royal Navy, activated a new nuclear reactor for the first time for a series of dockside tests.

It is the last critical operation before the 7,400 tonne sub is due to sail from Barrow on initial sea trials and then to the Royal Navy submarine base at Faslane in Scotland.

The reactor trials can last from 15 to 40 days.

The last such operation at the yard was for HMS Vengeance in 1998.

It was the last of the four Vanguard class submarines built in the town to carry the Trident missile.

The £1.2bn Astute is a hunter killer class boat designed to protect ship and missile subs and hunt down enemy vessels including enemy missile subs.

A BAE statement said: “First of class submarine Astute has begun the final sequence of activities leading up to departure from Barrow for sea trials, with the start of power range testing during which the nuclear propulsion systems are brought up to power and put through their paces.

“The green light was given for the first PRTs to begin at Barrow in more than a decade after the boat’s state of readiness got the thumbs up from civil and Ministry of Defence nuclear regulators.

“It marks the culmination of a huge team effort, involving a range of Submarine Solutions teams working closely with the ship’s staff and MoD on-site personnel to overcome a series of eleventh hour emergent first of class issues.”

Astute programme director Stuart Godden said: “It has been a huge effort by everyone involved and we have seen great teamwork between the company, the crew, the integrated project team and the wider MoD.

“Because of this teamwork, the time taken to resolve these emergent issues has improved significantly, to get us to where we are today.”

Mr Godden said the start of the power range tests was a major achievement for the business, and coincided with the start of initial fill, another significant reactor milestone, on Astute class boat two, Ambush.

Power range testing on Astute will be followed by defect clearance, completion of provisioning the boat for sea trials – a process already well under way – and “fast cruise”, which is a period of pre-sea trials training for the crew.

It was the first switch on of a nuclear reactor in an entirely new type of submarine since the first Vanguard class boat for Trident 17 years ago.

Barrow has been building nuclear submarines since the late 1950s and delivered its first HMS Dreadnought to the Royal Navy in 1963.

Barrow Borough Council leader, Conservative councillor Jack Richardson, said: “My initial reaction is simply to say I am pleased they have now made progress because there were some concerns about the time it was taking.

“They should now be getting back on track and hopefully the remaining boats will come out on time.”

Labour leader, Councillor Dave Pidduck said: “We must deliver on Astute because clearly we want other contracts, so it is great news that this is happening.

“Delivering Astute is so important, not just to the workforce but to the people in this area as well.

“It is about building confidence in the yard. The yard has got a good reputation and this strengthens it.”

Four Astutes are on order and long lead items like the reactor have been ordered for a fifth.

BAE is pressing the government to order at least three further boats making a class of seven, but is facing a tough post credit crunch climate.

The shipyard currently employs 5,300 people while the BAE Systems Global Combat Systems arms factory adjoining the shipyard, employs more than 400 bringing yard complex’s total including contractors to almost 6,000.

lLabour Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said yesterday Labour might look at running the next Trident systems with three submarines instead of four if that was possible.

Such a move could mean a significant drop in future work at Barrow between 2014 and 2030.

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