Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator's annual report 2011

The Defence Nuclear safety Regulator (DNSR) have recently published their annual report for 2011 which includes a summary of nuclear and radiological safety and environmental protection performance in the Defence Nuclear Programme (DNP)

Key risks are :-

Red Risk

  • Lack of adequate resource to deliver the defence nuclear programmes safely.
  • Measures already in hand may be insufficient to address the present and predicted shortage of NSQEP in the Royal Navy, among MOD civilians and in defence contractors

Amber risk

  • Safety Cases in the DNP are inconsistent against current good practice; integration of safety analyses for the reactor and weapon needs to be expedited
  • The demonstration that the risk from DNP activities is ALARP is inconsistent and tortuous to uncover
  • The number of incidents remains too high

"Para 7: At least some of the Issues described further on have their roots in a general lack of resource to address the work required to conduct activities and demonstrate their safety."

This issue has been included as a red risk for years and it appears that no progress has been made to provide the required resources and if anything the situation is getting even worse year by year. DNSR appears powerless to ensure that Ministers and management to provide the resources necessary to safely deliver the MOD nuclear programmes.  

 It appears that only a serious incident would deliver an increase in resources.   This is what happened after  the Pochin enquiry in the late 1970s  following the discovery that 12 of those working at the Aldermarston appeared to have accumulated plutonium in their lungs in excess of the level recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.  It was this that lead in a large part to the establishment of MOD professional Health Physicists as a separate grade within the MOD.

"Para15: Evidence continues to build that constraints on the DNP’s industrial funding are now affecting staffing levels in Tier 1 contractors; as a result projects run behind declared timetables and important safety submissions are delayed. The trend (of decades) to outsource work from MOD to industry when there are reductions in crown servant numbers (or the inability to recruit), may be approaching a real limit as industry is equally constrained. The limit may also result from the desire to maintain “crown control” of some activities, not least because safety legislation is applied differently (or exempted)  dependant on who is conducting the work."

Highlights the policy  of “crown control” under which the MOD nuclear operations remain largely exempt from civil nuclear regulation.  In the past outsourcing the work has allowed the MOD to meet staff reduction targets but it clear that the limit of this has now been reached if not exceeded.

"A number of incidents have occurred across the programme in 2011; individually they have not been of high significance or safety/environmental detriment, but taken together, they produce concern that working conditions and culture might not prevent an incident of higher significance"

DNSR highlights a worrying trend in incidents but these may well indicate the potential for a more significant incident with wider ranging consequences and may also be indicative of a safety/management culture under stress.

It is worrying that there are problems with integration of safety analyses for the reactor and weapon.  This suggests a "stove-pipe" approach to safety  and that there is insufficient consideration of the combined risks from all the hazards on the submarine, reactor, nuclear weapon, explosive, human factors and external hazards.  The report does not provide any information about what DNSR is doing to address this important issue.


The report clearly shows that the MOD lacks  adequate resources to deliver the defence nuclear programmes safely.  As far as can be seen DNSR  has been ineffective in persuading management and Ministers to provide the necessary resource.
It is also notable that DNSR has not issued any enforcement notices requiring the provision of the necessary resources deliver the defence nuclear programmes safely

It  is also of interesting to see in  DNSRs report,  concerns expressed  about the difficulty in establishing of DNSR’s full complement of human resources in DSEA with the potential to impact on DNSRs' ability to regulate.

The report suggests the probability of a serious incident within MOD nuclear programmes continues to increase.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

HMS Tireless - leak in reactor compartment

Daily Express reports

"Launched in 1984 “HMS Tired”, as she has been dubbed, was due to be decommissioned from the fleet this year but her service was extended for another four years due to the delay in the rollout of the new Astute class submarines

A Royal Navy spokesman said: “HMS Tireless returned to Devonport Naval Base last week for repair following a small coolant leak that was contained within the sealed reactor compartment. There is no risk to the public, the environment or the crew.” 

Whilst this may be true, the leak may be indicative of an ageing boat reaching the end of its life. 

The decision to extend its service calls in to question to what extent the granting of the extension of service is at the price of an increased risk to safety.

This incident shows that the problems encountered with commissioning the Astute submarines are having a knock on effect on nuclear safety of the older submarines that were due to have been decommissioned.

This blog has already reported the MODs failure to identify the root causes of the problems with HMS Astute.  It will interesting to see if the MOD publishes any information about the causes of the leak of coolant within the reactor compartment of HMS Tireless.

It is worth considering to what extent other submarines of the same class and age as HMS Tireless might now be prone to the same sort of leak or indeed a more serious leak that might endanger the submarine.

It should be remembered that this is not the first time HMS Tireless has suffered collant leaks, in May 2000, Tireless developed a serious leak in the nuclear reactor primary cooling circuit. The nuclear propulsion system was shut down and using backup diesel power Tireless made way to Gibraltar. The damage was found to be more extensive than first thought, and the boat remained at Gibraltar, creating diplomatic tensions between Spain and Britain, until she left on 7 May 2001, nearly a year later following extensive repairs During that year, all Trafalgar-class submarines were inspected for similar problems

More recent report

Friday, 8 February 2013

Un-regulated discharges of Depleted Uranium to the Environment at Eskmeals Cumbria

I noted this response from the Environment Agency about a FOI asking

"to see copies of the letters of agreement from the Environment Agency and predecessor to the Ministry of Defence for the atmospheric discharges of depleted uranium from VJ Battery at Eskmeals Firing Range, Cumbria."

The response from the EA  dated 8/2/13

Thank you for your e-mail dated 8 January 2013 regarding atmospheric
discharges at Eskmeals Firing Range.

We have made a detailed and thorough search of all the files we hold regarding the Eskmeals site, this includes records we hold on site and we have also recalled the older records in off-site secure storage and assessed these. We can find no record of letters of agreement between MOD and the Environment Agency, or its predecessors, on aerial emissions from the VJ Battery at the Eskmeals site. The majority of our regulation at that site relates to permitting and regulation of solid waste disposal or on the use of radioactive sources for testing purposes. We wouldn’t have considered the firing of military weapons for test purposes from the VJ battery as a disposal of radioactive waste and therefore not subject to our regulatory arrangements with MOD."

The response is surprising in that it refers to discharge in the context of disposing of radioactive waste rather than a discharge to the environment.
" We wouldn’t have considered the firing of military weapons for test purposes from the VJ battery as a disposal of radioactive waste".

The reply also talks in terms of "regulation" the EA has no powers to regulate since the Radioactive Substances Act is diss-applied from the MOD.

A previous post goes into the detail of the relationship between the EA and the MOD

"The response to this FOI request clearly shows the MOD failed to meet its own policy to seek letters of agreement from the EA when discharging substantial quantities of radioactive substances into the environment."

The reply from the EA shows that they have abdicated their responsibility to protect man and the environment so far as exercising proper oversight of the discharge of depleted uranium to the environment from the firing of DU at Eskmeals is concerned.  

This extract from the JSP 815 clearly shows how the MOD is clearly in the driving seat so far as the regulation, oversight of radioactive substances and control  of information are concerned.   


para 27
The Agency will consult the Ministry on any request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), for the release of any classified (see MoU) or sensitive information (including paper and electronic documents) originating from the Ministry. Unless information has been provided by the Ministry on the specific understanding that it will be published, the Agency will first consult the Ministry to ensure that all factors relevant to an assessment of the balance of public interest are understood and taken fully into account.

28 Classified or sensitive information shall be managed in accordance with the Agency’s Security Management Procedure and the Official Secrets Act.  In order to minimise the requirement for the Agency to reply directly to FOIA/EIR requests involving classified or sensitive nuclear programme information, the Agency will be provided, where practical, with access to classified and sensitive information on a Ministry site rather than retain the information itself.

Footnote page 2: 6 For radioactive substances activities covered by this Annex, the Agency has no legal powers to enforce compliance.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Astute - no investigation of the root causes of the problems recently reported in the Guardian

In response to a FOI request the MOD has admitted the MOD has not carried any analysis of the root causes that that lead to problems on the Astute class submarines and  that this was at least in part due to the collective loss of experience. 

This raises serious questions as to the safety of the MODs' nuclear submarine programme, the effectiveness of the MOD management systems and in particular the effectiveness of the MOD's internal Nuclear Regulator  and the  Defence Nuclear Safety Committee; it may only be luck that a serious incident has not yet happened.  

This situation would certainly not be allowed to develop in the civil sector which is subject to independent regulation by the Office of Nuclear Regulation

Original FOI request 29 December 2012

Reply from the MOD dated 4th February 2013

"Request for Information under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000  

Further to my letter of 28 January 2013, I am writing to provide a substantive response to your request for the following information: 

The Guardian recently revealed problems with the Astute nuclear submarine, which is 
coming to the end of three years of sea trials. 

Rear Admiral Lister is quoted as saying that "he had identified three sorts of problems with the Astute: 

a: flaws in design that only became apparent when testing started; 

b: equipment that broke down too easily; 

c: and some problems relating to poor construction at the shipyard."" 

Could you please provide me with information about the root causes of these problems. 

I can confirm that the MOD does not hold any information within the scope of your request.  This is because no analysis of problems on the Astute class submarines, nor any of the other lessons learning processes undertaken on the Astute programme, have categorised problems in the exact terms you describe in your request.  In his interview with the Guardian, Rear Admiral Lister was providing an engineer’s assessment of the generic problems experienced during the early phase of the Astute build programme, and not seeking to quote the formal lessons learning work that has taken place. 

Outside the scope of the FOI Act I should like to add that the most significant factor in the problems that have occurred in the Astute programme is the collective loss of experience of designing and building nuclear submarines owing to the long gap between the construction of the last of the Vanguard class (HMS Vengeance) and the start of the construction of HMS Astute."