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Nuclear Submarines: Decommissioning

Volume 458: debated on Tuesday 13 March 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the cost of decommissioning (a) nuclear submarine hulls, reactor compartments and propulsion reactors, (b) warhead design and production facilities at Aldermaston and (c) fissile material stores at Sellafield should it be decided to go ahead with a replacement for Trident; and whether any independent audit of such decommissioning expenditure has been made. (126307)

Paragraph 7-5 of the White Paper: “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent” (Cm 6994) indicated that decisions on whether to acquire a replacement for the Trident missile are unlikely to be needed until the 2020s. The White Paper set out the decisions needed now to join the programme to extend the life of the Trident D5 missile and to start detailed concept work on new submarines to replace the Vanguard class.

The Ministry of Defence has made provision in its accounts for a wide range of nuclear decommissioning liabilities. The latest estimate of these liabilities is shown in the Ministry of Defence annual report and accounts for 2005-06, HC1394, which were certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General. More detail is set out in the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) on 24 July 2006, Official Report, columns 778-79W.

The estimate for the in-service costs of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, once new submarines come into operation, set out at paragraph 5-14 of the White Paper includes an allowance for the decommissioning costs of a successor system. This estimate has not been subject to external scrutiny. At this very early stage, we are not in a position to provide a breakdown of decommissioning costs in the way requested.

Investment at the Atomic Weapons Establishment has been increased in recent years primarily in order to ensure we can sustain the existing Trident warhead in-service for as long as necessary. This investment involves the replacement or refurbishment of a number of facilities related to the design and production of nuclear warheads. Proceeding with the plan to replace our Vanguard-class submarines and participate in the life extension programme for the Trident D5 missile would not have a material effect on these plans. As the White Paper makes clear, decisions on whether and how to replace or refurbish our warhead stockpile are likely to be necessary in the next Parliament.

Facilities at Sellafield are the responsibility of the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency and British Nuclear Group Sellafield Ltd.