20. Dounreay, Caithness. (NC 982 667)
Dounreay with HMS Vulcan in foreground
The Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment has taken part in nuclear
submarine reactor tests since 1957. HMS Vulcan is operated by Rolls
Royce for the MoD with a small Naval staff (currently five), who
head up the organisation, and around 300 Rolls-Royce workers. Although
commonly referred to as a civilian nuclear research plant, much
the work carried out at Dounreay is done in conjunction with the
military test establishment alongside it.
Nuclear reactors are tested at Vulcan before they are used in submarines,
so that in theory, any problems that may have arisen in a particular
design would have arisen at Vulcan long before they became a problem
in an operational boat. The first reactor, designated Dounreay Submarine
Prototype 1, or DSMP, also served as a full-scale training rig,
allowing Royal Navy nuclear plant operators to gain hands-on experience.
The 3rd DSMP core installed in 1974 and labeled Core Z, is fitted
to the Royal Navy's current fleet of Trafalgar and Swiftsure "hunter-killer"
Now designated PWR1, the first reactor plant for the British nuclear
submarine programme was for Britain's Valiant and Resolution classes
of nuclear submarines. It produced power for the first time in January
1965 at Vulcan. The final core designed for the PWR1 reactor was
first manufactured during 1973 and commenced testing the following
year. It is fitted in the current Swiftsure and Trafalgar class
PWR2 was manufactured in 1985 with testing at Dounreay commencing
in August 1987. It is fitted to the current Vanguard class submarines
and is the power plant for the new Astute class submarines due to
replace the Swiftsure and Trafalgar class submarines.
Improvements in reactor design has culminated in the 'long-life
core'. The first was manufactured in 1997/8 and began testing at
Vulcan in 2002. Rolls Royce claim it has over six times the energy
output and over four times the service life of the original PWR1
core. Long-life cores will be standard fit in the latest Astute
class submarines, and back-fitted to the Vanguard class.
In 1987, LAIRD (Loss of coolant Accident Investigation Rig Dounreay)
was commissioned at Vulcan which ran for five years and completed
over 250 tests to reproduce the conditions in a nuclear reactor
at the point of emergency shut-down. In recent years, LAIRD has
been used to test the pumps from the nuclear reactors of HMS Spartan
and HMS Trenchant whilst they were in refit.
Dounreay is also a possible site for the storage of low-level radioactive
waste from the Interim Storage of Laid-Up Submarines (ISOLUS). Project
ISOLUS was carried out by Lancaster University on behalf of the
MoD. Final recommendations on ISOLUS will be made to the MoD in
February 2004, and the results will be posted at www.isolus.org.uk/