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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 10:45 GMT
Waste hitch threatens Trident refit
HMS Vanguard launch
HMS Vanguard is en route to dry dock at Devonport
The European Commission (EC) has questioned the legality of increasing radioactive discharges from Devonport naval dockyard in Plymouth.

The challenge could delay the yard's first Trident submarine refit, due to begin within days.

It is also understood the UK government has yet to approve a decision to allow a 500% increase in radioactive tritium into the River Tamar - the boundary between Devon and Cornwall.

The tritium builds up in the nuclear reactors of submarines and is purged during overhauls.

Greenpeace and Vanguard
Greenpeace confronted HMS Vanguard off Florida

But the Trident-armed Vanguard submarines build up far more tritium than the Trafalgar-class vessels that have been refitted at Plymouth.

The Environment Agency agreed to allow the dockyard operating company, DML, to increase emissions, but the final approval rests with the UK government.

The agency said the amount of radiation involved was lower than existed naturally in the area, and was well within national limits.

As part of the consent, DML was ordered to reduce all radioactive emissions by cutting back on the amount of cobalt discharged.

But the pressure group Campaign Against Nuclear Storage And Radiation, representing people living on both sides of the Tamar, said the river was being poisoned.

Legal doubt

Green Party MEPs have raised objections with the EC.

The EC has written to the UK government to ensure the consent complied with European legislation.

Building Trident sub
Trident submarines were built at Devonport
It has received no response but is continuing to investigate.

The Environment Agency said normal rules did not apply because the refits were a military operation.

A large police operation is planned for the arrival of the port's first Trident-armed Vanguard class submarine.

HMS Vanguard was expected from Sunday onwards.

A protest by about 500 anti-nuclear and environmental campaigners will begin at Devonport Park at noon on Sunday.

Shore guard

Police leave has been cancelled, with between 200 and 300 officers assigned to line the shore to prevent anyone entering the water to reach the 150-feet submarine.

Police at Faslane, where the submarines are based, have given advice about protests, and the Special Branch has been consulted about the risk of terrorism.

Devonport Dockyard
Campaigners oppose tritium emissions at Devonport
HMS Vanguard will not be carrying its 16 Trident missiles.

Neighbouring police forces have been alerted so more resources can be brought in if needed.

Chief Superintendent Steve Pearce said: "This is a major operation for Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.

"Our role is to enable life to go on and ensure the safety of the general public and the protesters we anticipate coming here."

Devonport beat Scotland's Rosyth dockyard to the 5bn refit contract in 1993, but is more than a year behind schedule and 180m over budget in preparing for the work.

See also:

06 Nov 01 | England
Dockyard to increase nuclear waste
14 May 00 | Scotland
Rosyth 'dump' fear denied
18 Jun 00 | South Asia
India nuclear workers 'in danger'
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