Sunday, 25 November 2012

Submarine safety letters in the Guardian Newspaper

On 16 November in response to the recent reports in the Guardian newspaper  Rear Admiral SR Lister wrote a letter to the Guardian

"Astute sea trials will rectify problems

As the Royal Navy officer responsible for the delivery of the Astute submarine programme, I must respond to your claims about the performance and potential safety of HMS Astute (Report, 16 November). All those involved in the delivery of our submarines have a duty to the submariners that serve on them to ensure that we provide a safe environment in which to live and work. As a submariner myself, I am acutely aware of the need to meet the exacting safety standards we demand and we are committed to meeting them both for HMS Astute and for the remaining submarines in the class.

I would never allow an unsafe platform to proceed to sea and the purpose of the extensive sea trials HMS Astute is undertaking is to test the submarine in a progressive manner, proving that the design is safe, that it has been manufactured correctly and that she is able to operate safely and effectively. This process reflects the nature of HMS Astute as both a prototype and an operational vessel. We have always known that it would be necessary to identify and rectify problems during sea trials and this is what we have done. All the issues noted in the story have either already been addressed or are being addressed. In particular, while we do not comment on nuclear propulsion issues, or the speed of our submarines, I can assure you that, once HMS Astute deploys operationally, we do not expect there to be any constraints on her ability to carry out her full combat role for the Royal Navy.

I invite the Guardian to spend time on HMS Astute with me to see at first hand the professionalism of the crew, the confidence they have in their boat and the rigour with which sea trials are carried out and problems addressed.

Rear admiral SR Lister
Director submarines, Ministry of Defence"

I was concerned that whilst the letter suggested that the problems reported were those normally expected to be encountered in a newly commissioned class of boat. I thought it was worth highlighting the shortcomings  in the resources and expertise needed to ensure the delivery of  the nuclear safety of the UK nuclear submarine fleet and the need for the independent regulation of nuclear safety. 

Letter of reply to Rear admiral SR Lister published in the Guardian 19 November

" Submarine safety

I read with interest the letter from Rear Admiral SR Lister, director submarines, Ministry of Defence, on the problems with the Astute submarine reported in this paper (17 November). As a former head of radiation protection policy at the MoD, I must say that public confidence would be greatly enhanced if the regulation of nuclear safety for the submarine fleet was transferred from the MoD's internal nuclear safety regulator to the Office for Nuclear Regulation, part of the Health and Safety Executive. It is also worth pointing out that the 2010-11 annual report of the Defence Nuclear and Environment Safety Board clearly shows how the MoD has failed to allocate sufficient resources to nuclear safety, in particular the lack of progress on recruiting and retaining experienced and qualified staff. The report clearly shows that ministers continue to ignore the MoD's internal nuclear regulator in the allocation of resources to support the safety of the naval nuclear propulsion programme.

Fred Dawson  Director, Milcon Research"


MOD  DNESB annual reports

Friday, 16 November 2012

Loss of specialist capabilities needed to support the nuclear propulsion programme

Guardian reports  - HMS Astute: quality control the key to restoring hunter-killer sub's reputation.  Union fears MoD has lost too many specialists amid acute sensitivity over £10bn programme

"This is what has alarmed union leaders, such as Prospect's Steve Jary, who fears the MoD has lost so many civilian specialists that it no longer has the ability to keep a proper eye on QA issues"

"The MoD is no longer able to supervise the construction of submarines effectively."

Regularly readers of this blog will recall a recent post about the loss of specialist capabilities needed to support the nuclear propulsion programme. The MOD was asked through a FOI request to provide information about loss of specialist capabilities needed to support the nuclear propulsion programme and to explore what the Union Prospect was doing to resolve the issue.

So far the MOD have failed to provide the information requested
Update on FOI request 23 November

What is becoming clear is the MOD may now reliant on contractors and granting  concessions so that less skilled and experienced personnel can be placed in SQEP posts within the MOD's nuclear progarmmes.  It is likely that this situation contributed at least in part to the problems reported in the Guardian Newspaper.

The 2010-11 DNESB and earlier reports clearly demonstrate how the MOD has failed to allocated sufficient resources to nuclear safety in particular the lack of progress on recruiting and retaining suitably experienced and qualified staff.

The 2010-11 DNESB  report clearly  shows that MOD Ministers continue to ignore MODs internal nuclear Regulator and demonstrates the need for full civil regulation by the Office for Nuclear Regulation

Other posts on this blog about  previous DNESB reports have highlighted lack of staff and resources as a significant risk to the safety of MOD's nuclear programmes. If the Guardian newspaper reports are correct the consequences of this are now all too  clear .

Thursday, 15 November 2012

There's something wrong with our submarines

The Guardian newspaper reports serious concerns about the safety of the newly commissioned Astute class nuclear submarines. Including

• Flooding during a routine dive that led to Astute performing an emergency surfacing.
• Corrosion even though the boat is essentially new.
• Concern over the instruments monitoring the nuclear reactor because the wrong type of lead was used.

As Earl Beatty said at the Battle of Jutland in the First World War  "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

Links to the Guardian Reports

If these reports are in any way correct, its seems the MOD's internal Nuclear Safety Regulator has been asleep at the wheel, making an overwhelming  case for external regulation by the Office of Nuclear Regulation.  It would not be surprising if budget cuts and cost savings also  played a significant part in this very sorry situation. The question is, to what extent these defects put the submarine, its crew and the public at risk.

It interesting to see that the problems reported by the Guardian do not seem to feature in the annual report of the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator for 2011

Monday, 5 November 2012

Video of DU firings at Eskmeals

In response to a FOI request the Ministry of Defense has released a video of the DU firings carried out at Eskmeals on the Cumbria coast.

The video shows how during the early years of the firing programme significant quantities of  DU were released to atmosphere and how in the later years of the firing programme efforts were made to reduce the discharge of DU to atmosphere

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