The Public Accounts Committee has revealed the latest catalogue of Ministry of Defence incompetence and negligence. It has warned that the infrastructure supporting the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet is no longer ‘fit for purpose’ and that MoD decisions to delay maintenance at its 13 nuclear sites had created a ‘ticking time bomb’.
Questioning the ability of the MoD to meet its national security commitments, the Committee highlighted a potential £20 billion shortfall in the MoD’s overall equipment programme. It also raised problems with the delivery of the new aircraft carriers.
Earlier this year the Committee warned about a £2.9 billion ‘affordability gap’ for the ‘Nuclear Enterprise’ which includes the Trident replacement submarines – Dreadnought. Now it has highlighted that when the subs are built there will be nowhere to berth them. Devonport and Rosyth dockyards are already full of old subs, some of which still contain nuclear fuel.
The question of what to do with old subs has been rumbling on for years without conclusion. Their ‘interim storage’ has been the subject of vast amounts of discussion and paperwork. Now thanks to PAC we learn that the MoD had deferred dismantlement work on ‘affordability grounds’. This is astonishing. Did they think the subs would just go away? Hardly likely when the intermediate level nuclear waste from the subs – the nuclear reactors that powered them – will be radioactive for thousands of years. What’s more, the deteriorating hulks are berthed in Devonport and Rosyth – both centres of population; Devonport is a city of 235,000 and Rosyth a town of over 12,000.
Recently government announced that the waste would be stored at Capenhurst, a small village that already hosts a uranium enrichment plant owned by Urenco, an international company that previously employed A.Q.Khan. This interim storage means that waste will likely be stored in drums, awaiting eventual ‘geological disposal’. In truth, there are no permanent safe storage methods for nuclear waste and it’s high time this was recognised. The only solution is to cease its production.
It’s clear that the MoD is overreaching itself financially: it cannot afford to buy a new nuclear weapons system and maintain its other spending requirements. It cannot afford to clean up after itself and puts many thousands at risk of nuclear contamination. It really is time for government to step away from nuclear weapons. On every conceivable level Trident replacement is just the wrong thing to do. The common sense solution is to cancel it.