Rosyth nuclear sub to be recycled into scrap metal in ‘global first’

CUTTING up an old nuclear sub to turn it into “razor blades and tin cans” will be a world first for Rosyth.

Seven vessels have been laid up at the dockyard for decades – the last one came out of service in 1996 – and there’s finally some progress in getting rid of them.

Three subs, Swiftsure, Resolution and Revenge, have had 90 per cent of their low-level radioactive waste removed and the next step is something no-one has tried before.

Christine Bruce, assistant head of nuclear liabilities at the Submarine Delivery Agency (SDA), explained: “Stage two is the most challenging and in some ways the most exciting part, when we take out what’s left of the centre of the reactor.

Some countries with old subs have left the reactor intact but a different approach is being taken at Rosyth.

She added: “The method we’re adopting is dismantling and no-one else has done that.

“When we manage to cut it up by 2026 that will be a global first. No-one else will have cut up a nuclear submarine.”

Ms Bruce told Forces News that safety was “paramount” and they expect to start work in late 2025.

She said: “Once that’s out, the rest of the vessel will be non-radioactive, it’s scrap metal and can be put into the final stage of disposal, which is recycling.

“There’s lots of very valuable steel and other alloys in there, there’s even some gold connectors!”

UK submarines are nicknamed the ‘silent service’ and the SDA is responsible for scrapping 27 of them – 21 of which are already decommissioned.

Seven are in long storage at Rosyth and 14 are at Devonport, Plymouth.

Ms Bruce said: “Taking a submarine from the days it leaves service to the end point, which is turning it into razor blades and tin cans, that’s our ambition, is quite a complex process and it takes quite a long time.”

But it costs £30 million a year to maintain and store the subs and dismantling all 27 is expected to cost more than £3 billion.

The Ministry of Defence has faced heavy criticism for the delays in getting rid of the subs – Dreadnought was retired in the 1980s and has been at Rosyth longer than she was in service.

Dunfermline and West Fife MP Douglas Chapman said: “Progress to dismantle the nuclear submarines at Rosyth has been glacially slow and come at a huge cost to the taxpayer.

“For years, the Government has dragged its heels and treated these submarines as an after-thought, rather than a priority.

“Following COVID, I am again meeting with the Labour MP for Devonport, Luke Pollard, and we will be redoubling our efforts to insist the Royal Navy and the submarine agency live up to their promises.”

Ms Bruce said: “We knew 20 years ago we had to do something and although I agree that seems a long time, it’s worth it to make sure it’s done safely and in a way that is environmentally-friendly.

“And it is getting the problem sorted. We don’t want to leave waste for future generations to have to deal with.”


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