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Nuclear submarine infrastructure not fit for purpose, says Public Accounts Committee

By agency reporter
September 22, 2018

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned that the infrastructure supporting the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet is no longer "fit for purpose". The Commons Committee revealed 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.

The Committee has already warned about a £2.9 billion ‘affordability gap’ for the ‘Nuclear Enterprise’ which includes the Trident Dreadnought replacement submarines. Now it has highlighted that when the submariness are built there will be nowhere to berth them. Devonport and Rosyth dockyards are already full of old submarines, some of which still contain nuclear fuel.

Kate Hudson, General Secretary of CND, said: "We welcome this very frank PAC report which puts MoD incompetence and negligence in the spotlight. It’s clear that 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 general equipment 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 PAC report must ring alarm bells at the highest levels. The common sense solution is to cancel Trident replacement.’

Public Accounts Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP said: "The pressure bearing down on the Ministry of Defence have been laid bare by my Committee this year.

"In January we reported on the challenges the MoD faces in delivering Carrier Strike – a hugely complex, costly programme intended to be at the heart of the national defence for years to come. In May we highlighted concerns that the MoD could find itself more than £20 billion short of the funding required to buy all the equipment it says it needs. Last week we recommended action to address the MoD's 'make do and mend' approach to staffing its defence commitments in the face of significant skills shortages in critical trades.

"There are ongoing concerns about the MoD's management of its estate and the sometimes woeful standard of accommodation provided for Forces personnel. These challenges, taken with the cost, complexity and risks to delivery of the Nuclear Enterprise, give rise to serious questions about the MoD's ability to meet its national security commitments.

"In the past there has been significant slippage across Enterprise programmes. The MoD must now bridge an affordability gap running to nearly £3 billion, fill critical skill gaps and ensure its supply chain is maintained effectively – all at a time of significant uncertainty in international politics and trade.

"I am particularly concerned that the infrastructure available to support the Enterprise is not fit for purpose. The UK has 20 submarines awaiting disposal, nine of which contain fuel. The MoD admits that while it has previously put off dismantling submarines on grounds of cost, this is no longer acceptable on grounds of safety and reputation.

"The MoD needs to get on top of this quickly and, in general terms, be more open about progress being made with management and delivery of the submarine-based deterrent.

"It must ensure Parliament has the detailed information it needs to make informed and meaningful judgements."

* Read the full report here

* Public Accounts Committee https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/

* Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament https://cnduk.org/

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