ONE of the most controversial proposals to affect Plymouth in generations is set to be thrust firmly into the public domain from today.
The Ministry of Defence has today begun a 16-week consultation exercise exploring the options for dismantling decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines.
The consultation aims to find a permanent home for The Submarine Dismantling Project (SDP) – either in Plymouth, or Scotland.
Peter Luff MP, The Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, yesterday released a statement to the House of Commons regarding the SDP.
"Submarines in afloat storage are maintained safely, in a similar way to operational submarines," he said.
"As they age, however, and as further submarines leave service, the cost to the taxpayer of maintaining them is rising significantly, and space to store them is running out.
"This consultation will seek the public's views on the proposals that have been developed by the MoD's Submarine Dismantling Project for dismantling and disposing of the submarines in a safe, secure and environmentally responsible way."
There are currently 27 submarines (of past and current classes from Dreadnought to Vengeance) which could be dismantled.
As it stands Devonport and Rosyth in Scotland are the candidate sites for the project which will see radioactive waste removed from the submarines and taken away.
A series of events, including exhibitions, displays and workshops, will be held in and around Devonport and Rosyth.
National workshops will also be held in accessible locations in England and Scotland to inform people of the proposals.
There are three key decisions on which the MoD is seeking the public's views:
How the radioactive waste is removed;
Where the radioactive waste is removed;
And options for storing the waste that cannot be disposed of immediately.
The main activities required to dismantle submarines include:
Initial Dismantling: All radioactive material on the submarine will be removed.
This is mainly metalwork inside the reactor compartment that has become radioactive during use.
Interim Storage: The radioactive waste that cannot be disposed of immediately will be placed into 'interim' storage, until a disposal solution is available sometime after 2040.
Ship-recycling: Once the radioactive material has been removed, the submarine hull will be broken up and recycled in a similar way to Royal Navy surface ships.
Any other hazardous waste will be disposed of through existing permitted disposal routes.
All the responses received during the consultation process will be considered by the MoD during its further analysis of the options.
A final decision will then be made and planning applications for the specific site will be submitted.
An announcement is expected to be made in 2013.
The consultation period will run from today until February 17 next year.
This period has been extended from the 12-week minimum to account for the Christmas holidays and in recognition of the interest in the project.
Last night the Ministry of Defence said it could not provide details of where and when exactly the consultation events would be staged in the Plymouth area.
Further details of the events were today expected to be announced by the MoD.
Full details of the Submarine Dismantling Project are available on the website: www.mod.uk/submarinedismantling.
Event details are expected to be listed in full on this website.
YES: Peter Smith, Chairman of the industrial trade unions at Devonport Dockyard.
DEVONPORT is already a centre of excellence for submarine refits and we have one of the most highly trained work forces in this field anywhere in the world.
Ensuring that this expertise is retained in the Plymouth region is vital to both the wider economy and also more directly to the individuals concerned.
Not only is there an existing workforce of 4,000 employed by the submarine programme, but future apprentices depend on high quality engineering projects such as this to learn their trade and ensure a future career.
At a time when unemployment in Plymouth is at a 13-year high, the jobs provided by this project cannot be overlooked.
The nuclear industry is one of the most highly regulated in the world, and Devonport leads the way in many areas.
All work is carried out in a thoroughly controlled manner and closely monitored by the trade unions, to ensure neither workers or the local residents are exposed to any hazards.
The work involved in dismantling submarines is less hazardous than the routine work currently undertaken at the Dockyard.
The key is in the word “dismantling” – this is highly controlled engineering work, not some rough and ready, large scale ship breaking process.
There appears to be a concern that this work carries some form of risk which could affect Plymouth but in reality, this simply isn’t true.
All fuel is removed from the boats before any dismantling work commences leaving a series of very stable and “ordinary” components to be dismantled. In fact, the average operator involved in submarine dismantling will receive a radiation dose over the lifetime of the project only equivalent to one tenth of the average natural background dose that all of us receive in the South West of England every year.
The submarines are stored at Devonport already, so why wouldn’t we want to do this work that will provide valuable employment, and is less hazardous than our current work?
This project will actually reduce risk and not increase it. The submarines, and any waste generated through their dismantling, will ultimately be disposed of off site, therefore, removing the disused boats from Plymouth forever.
NO: Jeremy Guise, Chairman, City of Plymouth Unison.
SOMETIMES on a Monday morning, an eerie sound can be heard wailing across Plymouth as the alarms are tested at Devonport.
It provides both reassurance that safety procedures are in place – and a disconcerting reminder of the accident hazards behind the dockyard wall.
The proposed Submarine Dismantling Project represents a significant intensification of the hazard posed by the nuclear dockyard.
Whatever rigorous safety procedures are in place, no human activity is completely risk-free.
It is the magnitude of the consequences of a nuclear accident that make it unacceptable to locate such a facility in the middle of a city of 250,000 people.
Although nothing on the scale of Chernobyl or Fukushima, Devonport is not immune from accidents. There have been nine radioactive leaks since 1997.
The impact of a significant accident in the dockyard would be devastating.
It would not remain confined behind its walls but would affect a much wider area.
Within a few hundred metres of the dockyard wall there is a primary school and established residential communities.
Why then has Plymouth been chosen, as one of just two potential sites, to be worldwide guinea pigs for an unproven, and potentially dangerous technique, of removing the section of hull containing the reactor core of obsolete nuclear powered submarines and cutting it up into small pieces for selling as recyclable metal?
I believe it is primarily motivated by the large profits that Babcock and the other contractors hope to earn from this process.
In return for a few specialist jobs, Plymouth would become known as the ‘Sellafield of the South West’, a poor, blighted city that the rest of the world hurries through on its way to Cornwall.
There is an alternative.
We could, like the Americans, store the hull sections containing the nuclear reactors away from settlements and regenerate the dockyard to provide thousands of new marine engineering jobs making wave and wind power machines.
Public consultation on the submarine disposal has started.
This is the most important decision the city has faced in years. I hope all those who care for the future of this city raise their voices in opposition to this proposal.