The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament today responded with grave concern to press reports that large amounts of radioactive metal from the reactors of nuclear-powered submarines are being cut-up in the Devonport dockyard, which sits at the heart of Plymouth, home to 250,000 people.

The reactor head, which was removed from the Trident nuclear weapons submarine HMS Vanguard during its 2002-04 refit is said to weigh up to 28 tonnes and represent around a sixth of the mass of the reactor. The 3ft thick, 9ft diameter steel dome was irradiated during the years in which it acted as the closure head of the reactor pressure vessel which powers the submarine. Local reports state that work to cut the dome into smaller sections began two weeks ago, in what a Navy source described as the first time a naval reactor had been cut up in the UK.

Two identical reactor heads are also thought to be awaiting disposal, and a further one is due to be removed from HMS Vengeance – the next nuclear weapons sub to be refitted at Devonport. These are yet more examples of the hazardous work being undertaken in a deeply inappropriate location, literally a couple of hundred metres from primary schools and houses.

Locals have for many years raised concerns over the growing submarine graveyard at Devonport, where there are now seven decommissioned subs awaiting disposal, each with more than 160 tonnes of radioactive waste on board. High level waste will be transported to Sellafield or abroad for storage, but so-called low level waste is likely to be stored in warehouses at the dockyard.

The MoD had previously consulted Plymouth residents on the prospect of managing and storing nuclear submarine waste at Devonport as part of the ISOLUS Project (Interim Storage of Laid Up Submarines). The public had overwhelmingly rejected the option, but the MoD appears to now be carrying out similar work. Local campaigners are concerned that this may be a forerunner to large amounts of dismantling work.

Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said, “There must be an urgent inquiry into why this work is going ahead when the results of the MoD’s own local consultation were so emphatically against cutting up submarines in the heart of the city. The growing number of rusting subs stored a stone’s throw from schools and homes is a national disgrace – it is totally inappropriate to create a nuclear dumping ground in the middle of a city of a quarter of a million, which already suffers from high cancer levels.

She continued, “The government has known it would have to deal with decommissioned nuclear submarines since HMS Dreadnought was launched in 1960. Almost half a century later it is rusting away at the other storage dock in Rosyth. How much longer must we wait until a suitable long-term solution is implemented?”