Monthly Archives: March 2014

Nuclear submarine to get new core after test reactor problem

HMS Vanguard (file pic) HMS Vanguard makes up part of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system

Low levels of radioactivity have been discovered in the cooling waters of a nuclear submarine test reactor at Dounreay, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said.

Mr Hammond told MPs that no leak had occurred and said there were no safety implications for staff working on the site, or risks to the environment.

But, as a result, HMS Vanguard is to be refuelled with a new nuclear core at a cost of £120m.

The problem was discovered in 2012.

Labour criticised the government for not announcing the information earlier, calling it a matter of “national importance”.

‘Below scale’

Although the news is only being made public now, the Ministry of Defence says the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the defence nuclear inspectorate were kept informed.

Mr Hammond said the Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment ran at higher levels of intensity than those on Britain’s fleet of nuclear submarines and was designed to pre-empt any similar problems with the reactors on board those vessels.

The defence secretary said: “These low levels of radioactivity are a normal product of a nuclear reaction that takes place within the fuel but they would not normally enter the cooling water.

“This water is contained within the sealed reactor circuit and I can reassure the House there has been no detectable radiation leak from that sealed circuit.

“Indeed, against the International Atomic Energy Agency’s measurement scale for nuclear-related events this issue is classed Level 0, described as ‘below scale – no safety significance’.”

The refuelling of HMS Vanguard – the UK’s oldest nuclear submarine – will take place during its next scheduled “deep maintenance period”, due to last three and a half years from 2015.

‘National security’

Mr Hammond said: “This is the responsible option: replacing the core on a precautionary basis at the next opportunity, rather than waiting to see if the core needs to be replaced at a later date which would mean returning Vanguard for a period of unscheduled deep maintenance, potentially putting at risk the resilience of our ballistic missile submarine operations.”

Mr Hammond said a decision on refuelling the next-oldest submarine, HMS Victorious, would not need to be taken until 2018.

New submarines for the Trident replacement programme, known as the Successor submarines, will not be affected by the problem, he added.

For Labour, shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker said the government should have told the Commons earlier about the fault.

He added: “There must be public confidence in the government to be open and transparent on these matters.

“A fault, however small, that develops in a nuclear reactor is something that the British people and this House should have been told about. This is an issue of national security and national importance.”

Source – BBC News

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Australia Reviews Plan to Double Submarine Fleet

Decision to Revisit $32 Billion Purchase Comes as Asian Neighbors Bulk Up Military Muscle

The first of Australia’s six Collins class submarines hitting the water at Port Adelaide in 1993; Australia is reviewing a plan to replace its fleet with 12 new subs at a cost of more than $30 billion.

CANBERRA, Australia—Australia will review plans to double its fleet of submarines, with the new conservative government under pressure to rein in its budget even as Asian neighbors dramatically ramp up military spending.

Defense Minister  David Johnston  said he was unconvinced that Australia needed as many as 12 new conventional submarines currently foreseen by military planners. It comes as regional neighbors, led by China, build up their naval and air arsenals amid disputes over territorial waters, especially in North Asia.

At a cost of up to 36 billion Australian dollars (US$32.28 billion), doubling the submarine fleet would be the country’s largest single military purchase.

“It’s a mystery to me [where that number of 12 came from],” said Mr. Johnston, who has called for a review of military-equipment spending as part of a yearlong strategic planning process launched by the conservatives, who swept to power in September elections on a promise of fiscal restraint.

“That is a technical issue that the current circumstances will dictate and I want [the] navy to tell me what they foresee is the way forward. It might be more than 12, it might be less. I’m not sure,” he said in an interview.

Australia’s former Labor government in 2009 released a defense planning paper that called for a dozen large, conventionally powered submarines to replace the country’s existing six-boat fleet of Collins class submarines.

Although much larger than submarines operated by regional neighbors, the Collins class submarines have been plagued by technical problems. On Thursday, a fire erupted on the submarine HMAS Waller off the West Australian coast, Australia’s Defense Department said. There were no casualties.

A new fleet of larger, more powerful and longer-range submarines would counter a growing undersea presence in Asia. Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia are fielding new submarines to counter threats to some of the world’s most important energy-trade routes, as well as to hedge against Chinese ambitions.

China in January sent a surface warship fleet—possibly backed by a submarine—into waters between Indonesia and Australia, demonstrating Beijing’s naval reach. The move prompted some alarm in Canberra, which sent a maritime patrol aircraft to keep watch.

Southeast Asian nations typically operate submarines of about 2,000 submerged tons, while Australia envisages boats of 4,000 tons or more, possibly equipped with submarine-launched cruise missiles for land attack and capable of deploying special-forces soldiers.

Australia’s submarine-replacement program, no matter how ambitious it turned out to be, wouldn’t add to regional rivalries, with the close U.S. ally having long fielded a small but highly capable military that was well respected regionally, Mr. Johnston said.

“For many, many years we have owned and operated the world’s largest conventionally powered submarine, so the neighborhood is well used to us having a large and unique diesel-electric submarine,” he said.

Australia already has embarked on an expensive buildup of military equipment, including two 27,000-ton amphibious assault ships, new attack and transport helicopters, guided-missile destroyers, tanks and Super Hornet strike and electronic attack aircraft.

Australia has a defense budget of some A$26 billion in the fiscal year to June, or 1.6% of gross domestic product. The government plans in the next few years to buy up to 100 F-35 Lightning joint strike fighters to provide radar-evading air power, at a cost of up to A$16 billion.

But the military has come under pressure to reduce costs as the world’s 12th-largest economy retreats from a mining boom, driving up joblessness and eating into government revenues. The government in December forecast budget deficits totaling A$123 billion over the next four fiscal year to June 2017, and said it would cut billions from spending.

Mr. Johnston said he was open to the idea of Australia’s far-flung Cocos islands, in the Indian Ocean southwest of Indonesia, being developed as a base for U.S. or Australian Tritons. But he said there was no proposal currently to upgrade the islands’ dilapidated airstrip to expand maritime reach, as Chinese vessels increasingly patrol further from home.

China’s growing assertiveness in the East China Sea and elsewhere was to be expected of any country with growing energy needs, Mr. Johnston said, including a demand for Australian oil and gas resources. China is Australia’s largest trading partner.

“They are hostage to the importation of food and energy. I think they would be dilatory were they not to want to protect those sea lanes,” he said. “I’m not reactive to these things that are happening in the South China Sea.”

Source – The Wall Street Journal