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Vanguard Class Nuclear Submarine Reactors

Volume 490: debated on Monday 30 March 2009

5. What work is being carried out on Vanguard class nuclear submarine reactors at Devonport dockyard; and if he will make a statement. (267179)

We announced on 2 March the award of a contract to Babcock Marine to complete the overhaul of HMS Vigilant. This is the third of four planned overhauls, following the completion of those for HMS Vanguard and HMS Victorious. The overhaul for HMS Vengeance will follow HMS Vigilant’s.

The question concerned reactors, and I heard nothing about reactors in that answer. The Minister will know that there was a fairly large public consultation on the storage of old reactors from the T-class submarines, but that did not include the Vanguard class. There is concern that that plant will also be stored in Devonport, which is wholly against the purpose of the public consultation. It was about the temporary storage of T-class submarine reactors. It did not include the storage of any Vanguard reactors, which will now, apparently, take place.

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the current overhaul includes refuelling the reactor with a new core, core H, which will fuel her for the remainder of her operational life. On the storage of reactors, it has always been our policy to store reactors in situ, in this case in Devonport, until the ISOLUS—interim storage of laid-up submarines—programme comes into force, under which we will put forward a new policy for dealing with the long-term future of these nuclear reactors. We will make an announcement on that subject next year, after the strategic environmental assessment, which will take place later this year.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the work referred to by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) has been accepted by the Environment Agency as in line with the licence that was granted when the work was extended to those submarines? Can he also confirm that the skilled work involved in the submarines is the anchor for ensuring that Plymouth will remain an important centre of naval engineering excellence in the future?

I can confirm my hon. Friend’s suppositions on both fronts. It is right that all the work we do on nuclear reactors in Devonport is under the regulation of the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and our own defence nuclear regulator, so she can be reassured about that. The future of Devonport is bright, and I cannot conceive of any scenario in which her assumptions would not be correct.