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Serious Coolant Leakage from HMS Trafalgar

There has been a serious leak of coolant fluid from a British nuclear submarine at a dockyard on the Devon - Cornwall border.

The Royal Navy has confirmed up to 280 litres of water, likely to have been contaminated with tritium, poured from a burst hose as it was being pumped from HMS Trafalgar. The submarine was alongside at Devonport, after undergoing routine maintenance.

Ministry of Defence spokespersons have played down the seriousness of the incident. However respected nuclear safety expert, John Large, whose consultancy Large and Associates are well versed on maritime nuclear safety issues said:

� The very fact that it was being transferred to a quayside effluent tank and then would have been put through an radioactive treatment process means it was not in a fit state to be directly discharged into the environment.

If the leak was going on unnoticed, then those workers could have walked into it, spread it and taken it into other non-radioactive and non-controlled areas. �

This is not the first time there have been serious incidents with the coolant systems on this class of nuclear vessel.

In May 2000, Tireless detected a slow loss of reactor coolant, and had to make an emergency port call at Gibraltar for what was hoped would be quick repairs to a minor crack in a coolant pipe. However, the damage was found to be more extensive than was first hoped.

The sub remained at Gibraltar, creating diplomatic tensions between Spain and Britain, until she left on 2 May 2001, nearly a year later following extensive repairs. Subsequently the vessel trailed a wake of nuclear pollution through the Irish sea on her way to a UK base for permanent repairs.

Subsequently all Trafalgar-class submarines were inspected for similar problems.

Tireless also featured in a fatal accident in 2007 when two crew members died following an onboard explosion.

Meanwhile, HMS Trafalgar, one of seven Trafalgar Class nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines, has also previously been in trouble. In November 2002 the vessel ran aground during a training exercise off the coast of Skye.