British government decides on nuclear storage site for submarine dismantling

The British Ministry of Defence has made a decision on where the intermediate level radioactive waste from decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines will be stored prior to disposal.

The Royal Navy currently has 19 former nuclear submarines stored afloat in Devonport and Rosyth, but the submarines can only be completely dismantled once the radioactive material and components have been safely removed.

A further eight submarines that are currently still in service will also be dismantled under the Submarine Dismantling Project when they reach the end of their service lives, with the initial dismantling process supporting up to 60 skilled jobs.

From five shortlisted sites, and following a public consultation process, Capenhurst Nuclear Services in Capenhurst in Cheshire has been selected as the MOD’s recommendation, with AWE Aldermaston in Berkshire chosen as a fall back.

Like all the sites shortlisted, operators Capenhurst Nuclear Services, already manage radioactive materials, and was found to meet the Submarine Dismantling Project’s (SDP) requirements best, including offering value for money.

The site at Capenhurst will be responsible for storing the Reactor Pressure Vessels (RPVs), classified as Intermediate Level radioactive Waste (ILW) from decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines.

Reactor Pressure Vessels are thick steel containers that held nuclear fuel when the reactors operated. The site will store these on an interim basis until permanent disposal in a UK Geological Disposal Facility (GDF), led by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, some time after 2040.

There are two options at CNS, Capenhurst to store submarine RPVs; the option that MOD will be taking forward, is to use an existing facility, with a second on-site contingency option of constructing a new store also available.

“When submarines in the Royal Navy fleet reach the end of their lives, we need to dispose of them in a way that is safe, secure and environmentally sound. With Capenhurst as our recommended site, we know that the radioactive waste from our decommissioned submarines will be dealt with properly and responsibly,” Defence Minister Philip Dunne said.