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HMS Vanguard

Volume 577: debated on Monday 17 March 2014

15. What recent progress his Department has made on its response to the internal radiation leak aboard HMS Vanguard; and if he will make a statement. (903059)

Let me make it clear to the hon. Lady that there has been no issue with the reactor on HMS Vanguard or, indeed, any of our submarines. I announced to the House on 6 March that there had been a small fuel element breach in the naval test reactor at Dounreay, but that did not lead to a leak of radiation from the reactor circuit.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. What assessment has he made of whether the reactors on all Vanguard and Astute-class submarines will last the full lifetime of the submarines?

As I explained to the House when I made my statement, the purpose of the naval test reactor at Dounreay is to run the reactor hard and flat out, as it were, ahead of the operational reactors on the submarines, to see what happens as they approach the end of their planned life. The reactors on board our submarines have nothing like the percentage fuel burn that the reactor at Dounreay has now experienced, so we are looking at something that has developed at a much further advanced stage of the life of the reactor. We have, however, taken the decision, on a precautionary basis, to refuel HMS Vanguard during her planned deep-maintenance period. Once the reactor at Dounreay is decommissioned, it will be examined in detail and we will then have much greater evidence of what has caused the issue and be able to make sensible decisions about the future.

Will the Secretary of State advise whether and when the Commodore at Clyde naval base was alerted to a potential issue with the reactors of the Vanguard submarines, and whether, no matter whose responsibility it was, he would have expected the relevant local authorities— namely Argyll and Bute and West Dunbartonshire councils—to be alerted?

If there had been any health and safety risk or any risk to the environment, I certainly would have expected the relevant local authorities to have been notified, but there was none at any time. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has a written agreement with the MOD that allows it oversight of these matters in military bases in Scotland. If it had thought there was any risk at any time, it would have notified the necessary civil authorities.