<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Return to home



Join the Scottish CND now...
Back to Main Menu
Orkney and Shetland
Highlands and Islands
North East
West Central and South West
South East

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[66] 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[40] to Faslane to protect the nuclear submarine fleet.

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 previous year.

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[20], 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


    Copyright © SCND 2004. All rights reserved.
site template provided by walrus and carpenter