UK faces lawsuit over leaking nuclear sub

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The Independent Online

The British Government is facing legal action in Gibraltar as part of an attempt to force it to remove a Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarine that suffered a leak of radioactive material.

The British Government is facing legal action in Gibraltar as part of an attempt to force it to remove a Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarine that suffered a leak of radioactive material.

HMS Tireless has been berthed at the Rock for emergency repairs after coolant started to seep from its reactor while she was on patrol. The presence of the vessel, which limped into port on 19 May, has led to widespread protests and concern.

Yesterday, the Gibraltar law firm of Hassan was instructed by several groups, including residents and local businesses, to pursue the removal of the Tireless through the courts. they have also asked the Madrid government to make representations to London.

Opinion polls in Gibraltar show 80 per cent of residents are worried about the repairs being done there. More than 3,000 people on both sides of the Spanish border were in a protest on 12 July and a further demonstration is planned for Tuesday with a flotilla of craft.

A spokesman for Greenpeace, which is backing the protest campaign, said repairing the Tireless at the Rock posed health, environmental and economic dangers. "The port is not prepared to take on a situation like this, nor does it have the equipment to carry out repairs with a high radiation risk," he added.

The environmental group also said that if the repairs were done there, the 30,000 population of the Rock should take preventive measures to avoid radiation poisoning and officials in three neighbouring Spanish cities should prepare evacuation plans.

Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials in London dismissed the Greenpeace claims as "emotive and alarmist", pointing out that the Gibraltar government accepted the submarine posed no risk to the public.

The Armed Forces minister, John Spellar, said the situation should be examined on its merit and not become a political football in the wider context of Gibraltar's future. The reactor had been shut down and the problem had been like "a dripping tap", he said. "It is about a thousand miles by sea to tow it back and that is not necessarily the most sensible option."

Mr Spellar said that the protesters were a small minority compared with all those whose livelihood depended on the dockyard.

But the campaigners in Gibraltar accused the British government of misrepresentation and claimed there were options available to move the Trafalgar-class submarine

A spokesman for the group said: "There is a Belgian company called Dockwise that specialises in transporting heavy vessels, even oil rigs, by building a special cradle. We think we haven't been told the full truth by the MoD.

"Mr Spellar is not very well informed about dockyards either. Only 150 at the most are involved in the repair work. It's not like the Sixties when thousands were employed in the dockyards. Today [the industry] employs hardly anyone."

The accommodation bill for the 130 members of the submarine crew in Gibraltar has run up to £352,000, but reports that five-star hotels have been used were denied by the MoD.

Gibraltar was once considered a strategic military base but its value has diminished since the end of the Cold War. Its deep-water port at the base of the famous "Rock of Gibraltar" is a convenient stop for British submarines. There is increasing debate on the Rock over the future of the territory and controversy over border controls imposed by Spain.

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