Investigation Into Submarine Defueling and Dismantling
UK National Audit Office
HC 2102
April 03, 2019
Despite a government commitment from over 20 years ago to dispose of its radioactive waste as soon as reasonably practicable, the Ministry of Defence (the Department) has not yet disposed of any of the 20 submarines it has decommissioned since 1980.

The Department now stores twice as many submarines as it operates, with seven having been in storage for longer than they were in service. It first aimed to have a disposal process that would operate by 2011 but now estimates to roll-out its dismantling approach by 2026. The Department has spent an estimated £0.5 billion since 1980 on storing and maintaining its retired submarines.

To dispose of submarines, the Department must undertake a complex series of inter-related tasks to remove the fuel, take out radioactive parts (dismantling) and then recycle the boat. At each stage the Department needs the necessary space, infrastructure, skills and regulatory approvals. Its approach involves several inter-dependent projects including defueling-related projects at Devonport and submarine dismantling covering Rosyth and Devonport.

Since 2004, the Department has not defueled any submarines and does not have a fully funded plan to re-start the work. Nine of the Department’s 20 out-of-service submarines contain nuclear fuel which needs to be removed using nuclear-regulator approved dock infrastructure and facilities. In 2004, the Office for Nuclear Regulation found facilities in Devonport did not meet the latest regulatory standards and the Department stopped defueling submarines. Following delays its latest planning estimate, subject to ongoing scrutiny and departmental approval, is to start defueling from 2023, an 11-year delay. Overall, the project budget has increased 57% (£100 million), from £175 million to £275 million in June 2018.


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