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Nuclear submarine accident at Rosyth

A serious accident took place at the Rosyth dockyard involving a nuclear powered submarine. HMS Sceptre was undergoing trials in the dock towards the end of a major refit. The test involved running the propeller slowly with power supplied from the shore. However too much steam was used and the propulsion system went to full power. The vessel broke its moorings and shot forward off the cradle it was on. It moved forwards 30 feet inside the dock, which at the time was full of water. (Photo shows HMS Sceptre at sea in 1996)

Some of the workers in Rosyth said that it was the most serious accident that had ever taken place in the yard.

The incident could have set up a chain of events which could have resulted in a major nuclear accident. The MoD have admitted that the steam power line was broken when the vessel lurched forward. It has also been reported that scaffolding buckled and a crane was pushed forward 15 feet. When in the dock there are a large number of power lines connecting the submarine with the shore. In the circumstances it it likely that these may have broken. The safety of reactor operations is probably dependent on a continuous supply of power from the shore. The incident could also have easily resulted in a fire onboard the nuclear powered vessel.

The Health and Safety Executive will carry out an investigation into the incident. Scottish CND is calling on the Scottish Parliament to carry out its own inquiry. While Defence is a Reserved Power the Parliament should have a say because an accident at Rosyth, with nuclear implications, could have a major impact on the environment.

There are also general concerns about the safety of ongoing nuclear work at Rosyth. The gates to the docks at both Rosyth and Devonport were found to not be strong enough to withstand earthquakes. During refuelling the fuel core is raised several feet in the air, which is not considered best practice by the nuclear industry.

The photo below shows HMS Churchill in the refit dock at Rosyth:

This is not the first incident to happen to HMS Sceptre. In the early 1980s the submarine collided at sea with a Russian submarine. The propeller of the Russian vessel scraped the side of HMS Sceptre. The reactor would have shut down but Sceptre's Captain overruled the safety mechanisms. The crew were told to say that they had hit an iceberg. This incident was disclosed when David Forghan, former Weapons Officer on the submarine, gave an interview for the TV documentary "This Week" which was broadcast on 19th September 1991.

In March 1990 there was a coolant leak from HMS Sceptre while the submarine was at Devonport. On 20th October 1991 there was a fire onboard the same submarine while it was moored at Faslane.

In August 1995 HMS Sceptre was forced to abandon a top-secret patrol and return to Faslane after having problems with its reactor. The MoD said "There is an unspecified fault in the propulsion system". It was reported that there had been a leak of radiation from the reactor. (photo below shows HMS Sceptre returning after a long period at sea)

There is a list of British submarine incidents in:

Annexes to Cracking Under Pressure

The effects of a nuclear submarine accident are detailed in:

Safety of Trident Chapter 4

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