TO CLARIFY my quote in the report on the Submarine Dismantling Project (The Herald, January 26), I think the issue of defuelling submarines in the Dockyard should be included in the Public Consultation.
Six of the 10 boats awaiting dismantling still have spent fuel in their reactors. In my view, this effectively means that Plymouth is hosting a Ministry of Defence authorised but unlicensed High Level Radioactive Waste store in the centre of the city. Currently, people have no say about the defuelling process.
To get spent fuel out of Plymouth as quickly and as safely as possible, there are two options. Either it is removed from decommissioned submarines and taken to the purpose-built store at Sellafield, as soon as the new crane to lift it is approved, (delayed now until 2014). Or people lobby for a new defuelling facility to be built elsewhere, but which might take many years to complete, even if somewhere is found to take it.
Crucially, I believe defuelling should not be done under a cloak of secrecy. The dates of the operation should be announced, local schoolchildren taken on day trips, and adults offered the chance to evacuate the area.
This would leave the emergency services available to attend to the needs of vulnerable people in the event of an accident, when people would have to take shelter and take potassium iodate tablets in a bid to to prevent thyroid cancer.
Compared to defuelling, dismantling a submarine reactor compartment is many categories of risk lower, as is hosting a SDP waste store. If the MoD wants Plymouth to carry the dismantling burden, it should pay for it by abandoning high-risk operations.
The key to this is an end to refuelling and perpetuation the problem.
Nuclear Submarine Forum