Britain’s lead Vanguard-class Trident nuclear submarine returned to service on Saturday after a costly seven-year maintenance period. 

HMS Vanguard started deep maintenance in 2015, after a microscopic breach in the nuclear reactor’s fuel cladding led to radiation leaking into its cooling water was discovered in 2011. Work was initially slated for completion within three and a half years at a cost of between £150-200 million. However, unforeseen technical problems saw this schedule slide before Covid-19 hit. The pandemic and subsequent work restrictions at Babcock International’s Davenport facility in Plymouth further compounded the delays.

Defence Journal UK notes that “the deal was not a fixed-price contract and it is now costing more than £75 million a year.” This means that the true cost of the work could exceed £500 million. 

The discovery of the leak also prompted the implementation of mitigation measures on other Vanguard and Astute-class subs. However, the government did not admit this publicly until 2014. 

A colossal waste  

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said the return of HMS Vanguard to service – overdue and overbudget – proved how much of a colossal waste Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons are: “Once again we see public funds disappear into the black hole that is Britain’s nuclear weapons cycle, with little or no scrutiny. Replacing Trident will only lead to more vital money needed for a properly funded NHS, education system, and investments for tackling climate breakdown, diverted into these weapons of mass destruction. We call on the UK government to scrap Trident, and start investing in the people of Britain instead.”

Photo credit: Tam McDonald