74. Faslane, Gare Loch. (NS 246 883)
Royal Navy Clyde Submarine Base, official designation HMS Neptune.
Faslane is home to Britain's strategic nuclear submarine fleet and
is the headquarters of the Royal Navy in Scotland. All four of Britain's
Trident operational strategic intercontinental missile submarines
(Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant, Vengeance) are based at Faslane.
More than 7,000 navy and civilian staff work at Faslane for the
Royal Navy and defence company Babcock Naval Services - the largest
number employed on a single site in the country.
In 2002 many of the operations at Faslane were handed over to Babcock
Naval Services who also own Rosyth, in Fife, in a controversial
privatisation with the loss of 500 jobs, in a move that was opposed
by trade unionists within the base as well as anti-nuclear campaigners.
As a result Babcock Naval Services manage all engineering work on
Submarines and Minor Surface Warships including emergency and scheduled
maintenance on both Royal Navy and foreign naval vessels; provide
hotel accommodation on site at Faslane and run the three naval messes,
accommodating up to 2500 sailors and producing over 3000 meals each
day; BNS manages the stores facilities at both Faslane and Coulport
and provides cleaning services and grounds maintenance as well as
berthing services and radioactive waste processing. At Faslane BNS
also operate the 25,000 DWT Ship-lift, which is capable of docking
a Trident Class Submarine. Additionally, at Coulport, the unique
floating berthing facility for loading and unloading Trident warheads
(the Explosives Handling Jetty) is also operated by Babcocks.
The Trident fleet is currently in the process of being refitted
at HMS Devonport in Plymouth. HMS Vanguard finished its refit at
the end of 2004, and started six months trials before being handed
back to the Navy. HMS Victorious will take its place in 2005, first
off-loading its warheads at Coulport and its missiles at King's
Bay, Georgia in the USA.
HMS Vanguard is being fitted with a new design of nuclear reactor
core at the Devonport dockyards in Plymouth. The reactor is the
same design as those fitted to the new Astute class of nuclear hunter-killer
submarines. The Astute programme has also encountered delays (see
below.) Vanguard was scheduled to undergo sea trials in the Autumn
2004, but rumours circulating amongst the dockyard workforce, suggested
overruns because of problems encountered with replacing the original
reactor with the new reactor design. The delay is so serious the
Ministry of Defence was reported considering sending HMS Victorious,
next in line for the refit, to the navy submarine base in Kings
Bay Georgia in the US to carry out the work. The government had
admitted that Vanguard will not finish its refit until the second
quarter of 2005, some eight or nine months late.
In addition to the nuclear powered and nuclear-armed Trident fleet,
Faslane also houses five conventionally armed Swiftsure Class nuclear
submarines (Sovereign, Sceptre, Spartan, Superb and Splendid), ships
of the Third Mine Countermeasures Squadron, and the Northern Ireland
Squadron. Also at Faslane are the Northern Diving Group, who clear
explosives over a huge and often remote area including Cape Wrath
and the FOST-MPV (Flag Officer Sea Training - Mine, Patrol and Survey
Vessel) which provides sea training in Scottish exercise areas for
all RN minor war vessels. The Base is also home to the NATO tri-service
Joint Maritime Course three times a year, for which it provides
berthing and Command and Control facilities. It also hosts visiting
American and French submarines. In 2001, Commachio Company was transferred
from Condor Base in Arbroath to Faslane to protect the nuclear
Since the late 1990's, submarines berthed at Faslane have been plagued
by problems with their nuclear propulsion systems and accidents. In
1995, HMS Sceptre returned suddenly to Faslane from sea with problems
that at the time were reported as a radiation leak. It returned to
sea but a defect in the reactor was discovered in 1998, early on during
its' refit at Rosyth where the full seriousness of the problem was
not recognised until the middle of 2000. During Sceptre's refit the
submarine broke free from its' mooring and shot forward 30 feet inside
the dock. Some Rosyth workers said that this was the most serious
accident that had ever taken place in the yard. In January 2002, Defence
Minister Adam Ingram admitted that the problem on Sceptre was due
to "small original fabrication imperfections" in the Reactor
Pressure Vessel. Despite a refit already extended by 18 months the
Minister said that the MoD could not accurately say how long it would
take to inspect and repair the problem. Sceptre eventually sailed
from Rosyth in March or April 2003.
During the same period, HMS Sovereign, the oldest submarine in
service, primarily used as a training boat, has had similar problems.
Sovereign was in Rosyth dockyard for several years on a very long
refit and finally being rededicated in January 1997. Shortly afterwards
cracks were discovered in its tail shaft during post refit sea trials
and it was sent back to Rosyth in June 1998 needing emergency repairs.
In 2000 it was reported that Sovereign has been withdrawn from operational
service because of a potential reactor fault and a statement made
in January 2002 indicated that Sovereign had the same problem as
Sceptre (i.e. "small original fabrication imperfections"
in the Reactor Pressure Vessel.) The timescale for inspection and
repair of this is not known.
In September 2000, HMS Splendid was the only operational Swiftsure
class submarine allowed to continue to be operational until February
2001. However when the submarine sailed from Faslane on 16 October
2000, it was subsequently recalled to Faslane on 21 October to be
removed from service until checks were carried out into its reactor.
An earlier decision made in 1998 was that Splendid would not be
given the refit it had been due in 2003 and the submarine is expected
to be taken out of service and this may have happened already.
In January 2002 it was revealed that there was concern that HMS
Superb could have the same problem as Sceptre and Sovereign as it
shared the same reactor design. However a safety case was made for
it to return to duty, pending a further inspection later in 2002.
HMS Spartan arrived at Rosyth in January 1999 for a refit that
would start in March 1999 but was not due to be completed until
April 2003 - twice as long as the two years nuclear submarine refits
normally take. After its refit Spartan will be cruise missile capable.
Also at the same time, Trafalgar class submarines (based at Devonport,
but regular visitors to the Faslane base) faced just as many difficulties.
On 19 November 2000, HMS Triumph hit the seabed when 3 miles off
course during a 'Perisher' submarine commander training exercise
off the west coast of Scotland. Two junior officers were subsequently
court-martialled - neither of them taking the Perisher course. It
was revealed during the court-martial that prior to the accident
they had gone 12 days with only 4 hours sleep a night. Their defence
lawyer said that one of the officers was suffering from extreme
fatigue. Defence Minister Adam Ingram described the incident as
" a glancing contact with soft sand and shells".
HMS Trafalgar hit the news on several occasions (and the sea-bed)
as well, whilst in Scottish waters. In November 2002 the submarine
hit rocks near the Isle of Skye during submarine captain's training
resulting in damage to the hull. The vessel returned to Faslane
for inspection and repairs costing £5m. Three sailors were
injured after they had been violently thrown to the deck. Two officers
were subsequently court-martialled for the collision and the Naval
Enquiry found "lapses" from usual Navy standards including,
unbelievably, 'Post-it notes' covering navigational display screens.
As part of a training exercise, the yellow notes were covering the
display screens of the navigational systems the officer in charge
of the vessel normally relied on, and the navigation charts were
allegedly difficult to read because of poor lighting.
If that wasn't enough, in April 2004, only a month after the court-martial
for the collision with the Isle of Skye had finished, diesel fumes
circulated through Trafalgar's ventilation system while it was in
Devonport dockyard, triggering an alarm and forcing crew to breath
through masks. Three of the crew had to be treated for gas inhalation.
Shortly afterwards this was then followed by a freon gas leak, (used
as a refrigerant gas) which escaped in another incident when the
submarine arrived at Faslane to start sea trials. According to some
reports there had been a total of 270 defects on the submarine before
it sailed from Devonport. The Navy denied all allegations, except
one. That was that there was a 'minor problem' with the nuclear
reactor's control rods that are used to prevent a runaway nuclear
reaction. On 28 April 2004, eleven of the crew refused to go to
sea on Trafalgar from Faslane, in what was widely described in the
media as 'mutiny'. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said however
that, that was not the case. "They did not refuse orders. They
expressed concerns and their commanding officer felt it prudent
to land them,"
Concern has also been raised about the number of fires and false
alarms in Faslane and Coulport. The sites are not licensed by the
government's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, so are only subject
to limited independent inspection. Instead, safety at the two bases
is overseen by the Royal Navy's own Naval Nuclear Regulatory Panel,
based in Bristol. In October 2004, The Sunday Herald revealed there
had been 14 fires and 486 false alarms at the two sites over the
Previously unpublished reports from the Naval Nuclear Regulatory
Panel criticised "weaknesses" and "shortfalls"
in safety procedures. The panel's three latest reports, covering
the period from November 1 2003 to July 31 2004, reveal the panel's
misgivings about safety at the two bases. "The naval base has
acknowledged that its arrangements and current safety justifications
are not consistent with current standards," says one report.
The base was planning a site-wide safety improvement programme "to
address these shortfalls". Another report revealed the arrangements
for managing the construction of a new radioactive waste processing
facility at Faslane "were not considered adequate". An
emergency exercise held in November 2003 identified the same "areas
for improvement" highlighted in previous exercises. The panel
notes "weaknesses in the arrangements for undertaking periodic
safety reviews" and says the base did not have a formally agreed
programme for such reviews. It also expresses concern about arrangements
for the training, management and deployment of suitably qualified
and experienced staff.
During the nine months covered by the report, 14 fires at Faslane
and Coulport, (more than one a month) were caused by electrical
components overheating, faulty wiring in engines, cigarettes in
bins and welding equipment. They were all attended by Faslane's
own fire service, and in seven serious cases Strathclyde Fire Brigade
was also called in. Coulport's emergency control centre (where Coulport's
Emergency Plan for dealing with major incidents involving the nuclear
weapons stored at the depot would be implemented from) was "stood
to" (or activated) on four separate occasions. These emergency
procedures were started at a frequency of nearly once every two
months during the nine months. Most of the 486 false alarms were
reported as being caused by dust, insects, power fluctuations or
smoke from cigarettes and bonfires. Many were due to faulty equipment,
and a few to honest mistakes and malicious acts by workers.
Planning for new jetties at Faslane for the new generation of nuclear-powered
Astute class submarines is under way. The first Astute class submarine
was due to be launched late in 2004. However this programme has
also run into major problems. BAe, the company building the submarines,
has encountered serious delays increasing the cost to the government
by at least an extra £430 million. The first submarine is
now not due to enter service until 2008, four years late. Astute
will use the latest reactor from Dounreay, Core H. When she
enters service, HMS Astute will be the biggest and most powerful
attack submarine ever built for the Royal Navy. The weapons load
of the Astute class will be 50% greater than the existing Trafalgar
class submarine. HMS Astute will be followed by HMS Ambush and HMS
Artful, but the Royal Navy is also considering commissioning another
three boats. The new vessels will be based at Faslane and replace
the Swifsure and Trafalgar class submarines.
The government has announced that the decision to replace Trident
will take place during the next session of government. One alternative
being suggested is that the Trident missiles could be replaced by
nuclear-armed Cruise Missiles carried by Astute class submarines.
The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament website has a large
section dealing with Faslane, Trident and the related safety issues.
It can be found at www.banthebomb.org/scotland/fasacc.shtml