THE GOVERNMENT insisted yesterday that 'storage afloat' of Britain's decommissioned nuclear submarines would not compromise safety, after leaked defence documents revealed proposals to moor the vessels at Rosyth naval dockyard indefinitely.
The shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown, said the plans would turn Rosyth into a 'nuclear graveyard'. The leaked proposals came as an ironic second blow for dockyard workers who were told last year that Rosyth, Fife, had lost a drawn-out battle with Devonport for the pounds 5bn order to refit the Trident submarine.
Mr Brown, whose Dunfermline East constituency includes Rosyth, attacked as 'totally unacceptable' plans to moor seven decommissioned nuclear submarines at the dockyard, while long-term policy was formulated. Mr Brown said the documents showed safety restrictions at the site were to be downgraded.
One proposal was to set aside only pounds 30,000 a year until 2004 for the upkeep of the submarines. The document suggests that the body for dealing with safety questions will be moved almost 100 miles to Faslane, Strathclyde, and tugs suitable for moving the nuclear submarines are to be located 600 miles away at Devonport.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman emphasised that no decision had been made about future storage of the submarines at either Rosyth or Devonport. Four decommissioned nuclear submarines are already moored at Rosyth with another three at Devonport.
Mr Brown said that the proposals were contained in a leaked government document marked 'Urgent Restricted', which he was confident was authentic.
The Government had promised to produce a consultative paper setting out its options for disposal of decommissioned submarines. But this has not yet appeared.
Mr Brown said: 'My fear is that they have no intention of making proposals at all, and that short- term proposals will turn into medium-term proposals, which will turn into long-term proposals.'
Decommissioned submarines have their highly radioactive nuclear fuel removed, and sent to the BNFL site at Sellafield. The reactor itself is less radioactive and is left in place within the hull.
The MoD said that once the highly radioactive fuel was removed, decommissioned submarines 'present no hazard to residents near the dockyards or to the workforce. Safety is paramount'.
Mr Brown said: 'We will not allow the Rosyth area to be frozen by nuclear dumping or becoming a nuclear graveyard. The Government proposals cannot be allowed to go ahead.'
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