Page last updated at 11:14 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 12:14 UK

Navy base to be 'nuclear dustbin'

Rebecca Atkins
BBC News, Plymouth

HMS Victorious leaving Devonport Naval Base
There are fears serving vessels will be moved away from Devonport

Plymouth's naval base could become a "nuclear dustbin" for decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines, BBC News has been told.

There is concern Plymouth-based frigates are to be moved to Portsmouth naval base and serving nuclear-powered submarines to Scotland.

An informed source said such moves would harm Plymouth's economy.

So Devonport would be offered work to scrap old nuclear submarines as a "sweetener", he said.

Unconfirmed reports that the Ministry of Defence will move frigates and nuclear submarines away from Plymouth, follow a review of naval bases at Plymouth, Portsmouth and Faslane, as part of an initiative to cut over-capacity and costs.

Announcements 'imminent'

The interviewee, who did not want to be named, said: "MoD sources told the BBC last week that an announcement about the frigates relocating to Portsmouth was imminent and other sources have told me that the decision to move the submarines from Devonport to Faslane is fairly imminent too.

"Both of these relocations will be bad news for Plymouth and my understanding is that the government will offer Devonport naval base a sweetener to make up for these losses.

"The UK has a large number of decommissioned nuclear submarines which, although they have had their nuclear fuel taken out, still contain their nuclear reactors."

It is not a particularly attractive option and Devonport will become a nuclear graveyard
Gary Streeter, Devon MP

The source believes there are currently about 14 such vessels in Devonport and Scotland which need to be scrapped because it costs money to keep them in dock.

He said that because Devonport had the nuclear skills in place to carry out the scrapping, the government would offer Devonport-based marine engineering company Babcock the contract because it would be a way of preserving jobs.

"Both Babcock and the Royal Navy have a good record in nuclear safety and although the old submarines still contain their nuclear reactors, it is safe for them to be scrapped," he added.

'Hugely complex'

"However, the work is hugely complex and if the MoD take away Devonport's frigates and active nuclear submarines, people will start to regard the naval base as just a nuclear dustbin."

Plymouth and its surrounding communities rely heavily on the navy's presence to shore up the local economy.

Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for south west Devon, said: "I am desperately concerned it will be a bleak future for Plymouth if the frigates and submarines are taken away and all we are left with is decommissioning nuclear submarines and scrapping them.

Submarine at Devonport Naval Base
More than a dozen redundant nuclear submarines need to be scrapped

"It won't be much of a sweetener for the city and Devonport will become a nuclear graveyard."

Kate Hudson, chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: "This is an obscene risk which must not be allowed.

"Whatever safeguard are put in place, the fact that nuclear submarines and their reactors are to be broken up only a stone's throw from schools and homes is a national disgrace.

"It is totally inappropriate to create a nuclear dumping ground in the middle of a city of a quarter of a million people, which already suffers from high cancer levels."

An MOD spokesman said: "Work on the Maritime Change Programme (MCP) is ongoing but no final decisions on the programme have been taken and no date for an announcement has been planned."

Babcock Marine, Devonport, said it was unable to comment.

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