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Report into Tireless explosion

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Scottish CND today criticised the Ministry of Defence for underestimating the potential for a catastrophic accident on a nuclear submarine, after the publication of the Board of Inquiry report into an explosion on HMS Tireless on 20 March 2007 which resulted in the deaths of two sailors.  Scottish CND had submitted a request last month for the publication of the report under the Freedom of Information Act.

 

John Ainslie, Coordinator of Scottish CND said:

 

“The report  contains a graphic illustration of how difficult it is to deal with an explosion or fire on a submarine. These vessels contain a dangerous cocktail of explosive, flammable and radioactive material.  The risk of an accident on a submarine like HMS Tireless is bad enough, but it is even greater on the Vanguard class which carry nuclear weapons and Trident missiles. ”

The report includes the following points:

 

(1)    The fire would have been much worse had it not been for the brave actions of one sailor. “The small fires caused by the explosion could easily have taken hold and a major conflagration ensued, with very serious consequences, if [sailorÂ’s name deleted] had not had the stamina and presence of mind to use all available means to extinguish them”.  (para 8)

 

(2)    Training exercises on submarines had not rehearsed an incident of this seriousness. – “Neither the pre-deployment training package nor the general FOST safety training exercises a scenario whereby such a large volume of the submarine atmosphere is out of specification from the outset” (para 55)  The speed and extent of the spread of smoke through all compartments caused confusion and delays and forced the incident control team to relocate to another part of the vessel.  This lesson should have been learned from the fatal fire on the HMCS Chicoutimi (formerly HMS Upholder) in transit from Falane to Canada in 2004. 

 

(3)    Despite a series of earlier incidents, the explosive risk from the Oxygen generators had been underestimated – “there was no real experience or understanding within the MoD of just how violently a contaminated sodium chlorate candle could react”. (para 143). The explosion on Tireless and subsequent tests carried out by NASA showed that the blast from such an explosion could cause extensive damage.  (para 193f) On Tireless a door was buckled which meant that the casualties could not be treated until 44 minutes after the blast (para 234).

 

(4)    This incident could have occurred on a Trident submarine.  Similar oxygen generators were deployed on submarines carrying nuclear-armed Trident missiles.  In 2004 there had been two misfires of similar generators on the Trident submarine HMS Vigilant. (para 161)   One generator from the same suspect batch as those on HMS Tireless was on the Trident submarine, HMS Vanguard. (para 153)

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