The Ministry of Defence has been criticised in a new report by the National Audit Office for its ‘dismal’ failure to clean up 20 out-of-service nuclear submarines.

The NAO’s latest report found that the UK has not disposed of any nuclear-powered submarines since the 1980s, leaving 9 subs berthed in populous areas with ageing nuclear fuel still inside. The process of defueling these submarines is not scheduled to take place until 2023.

The NAO report also highlights that the MoD has not developed a plan to dispose of the operational Vanguard and Astute submarines or its future Dreadnought nuclear weapons submarines. This could mean an additional 10 nuclear-fueled submarines being added to the 20 already awaiting decommissioning.

The MoD has already spent £500 million on maintaining and disposing of the subs, with a predicted £7.5 billion needed to continue to maintain and store them.

The £21 billion funding gap in the department’s budget means it remains unclear how the UK can afford to maintain or dismantle existing submarines – a fact soon to be exacerbated by the addition of four new Dreadnought submarines which will carry the UK’s nuclear weapons.

Kate Hudson, General Secretary of CND, said:

‘We welcome this very frank NAO report which puts MoD incompetence and negligence in the spotlight. The MoD is overreaching itself financially: it clearly cannot afford to buy a new nuclear weapons system and maintain its other spending requirements. Spending on Trident replacement when it can’t afford to safely dispose of old nuclear subs is grossly irresponsible.

‘Even worse are the health and safety risks presented by years of MoD inactivity. There is a backlog of subs waiting to be dismantled, some of which contain nuclear fuel waste that will be radioactive for thousands of years. No permanent safe storage facility has yet been found, but our government chooses to produce more of this toxic waste through a nuclear weapons system that it cannot afford.

‘This NAO report must ring alarm bells at the highest levels. The common-sense solution is to cancel Trident replacement.’


Image credit: U.S. Navy photo by Zachary Wickline