Nuclear subs withdrawn due to 'defect'

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Britain's fleet of strike force submarines has been withdrawn from active service for intensive testing following the discovery of a flaw in its reactor cooling system.

Britain's fleet of strike force submarines has been withdrawn from active service for intensive testing following the discovery of a flaw in its reactor cooling system.

The 12 hunter killer submarines, which are used to protect larger nuclear submarines from "enemy" boats, have been withdrawn as "responsible nuclear operators", the Government said.

The Defence Minister, John Spellar, said in response to an emergency parliamentary question that there may be a problem with the original construction of the submarines and that the flaw may effect other nuclear vessels.

He said he could not predict the implications for the Navy or how long the submarines would have to be withdrawn from service.

"Initial indications are that the defect may have arisen from the original construction of the submarine and that it is present in other submarines, albeit at an early stage," he said.

"Let me stress that Vanguard Class Trident submarines, which are of a different design, have not been affected. Until the inspection programme is completed, it is not possible to finalise the repair programme or to quantify the operational implications."

Mr Spellar said that the fault had never put the submarines' crew or the public at risk. He said the repairs were "fairly basic" in engineering terms but that the need to cool down the nuclear reactors, drain fluid and then re-fill the coolant would take time.

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said that the repairs would punch a "very substantial hole" in Britain's defence capability.

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