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So you think nuclear submarines are safe?

Below is a list of 47 major incidents and problems on British nuclear po

wered submarines. This list is not comprehensive as many events are still not in the public domain. 

  1. January 1973 HMS Revenge/HMS Repulse Faslane. HMS Revenge collided with HMS Repulse when leaving the dry dock. Hydroplanes on HMS Repulse were damaged and had to be replaced.
  2. 1975-79 There are 106 occasions during this period when there was an emergency reactor shut down or SCRAM. 50 of these were accidental and 29 were due to human error. A SCRAM can threaten the safety of the submarine
  3. 2 May 1976 HMS Warspite Liverpool.   Major fire during flag-waving visit.  Started by a coupling failing and spraying oil over a diesel generator. Fire lasted 5 hours. One sailor seriously injured and four others taken to hospital. Repair took 2 years.
  4. 1978 HMS Revenge. Major steam leak in turbo generator room. Crew member later awarded with gallantry medal for crawling along a catwalk beneath hot cloud of escaping high pressure steam to detect the leak.
  5. Early 1980s HMS Sceptre Barens Sea. Collision with Russian submarine. Automatic reactor shut-down was manually over-ridden in a “battleshort” in order to avoid an uncontrolled dive.
  6. 1980 HMS Dreadnought.  Problems discovered with the materials used in the seals on valves in the reactor. As a result the submarine was scrapped.
  7. May 1981 HMS Valiant off the coast of Cornwall. Reactor problems discovered at sea.  It was later found that this was due to small cracks in the Primary Coolant Circuit.
  8. December 1989 HMS Warspite Devonport. Major defect discovered in the reactor. This led to the vessel being scrapped and a program of inspection of all other submarines which found major flaws in the reactors on other vessels.
  9. 1990 HMS Churchill Rosyth. Scrapped during a refit following discovery of reactor defect.
  10. 1990 HMS Conqueror Faslane. Scrapped and towed out of Faslane following discovery of a major defect.
  11. 22 November 1990 HMS Trenchant Bute Sound. Fishing vessel Antares sunk with loss of all four crew when the submarine snagged its nets.  Between 1980 and 1990 there were 12 serious incidents involving submarines and fishing boats.
  12. 1990-1996 Series of major problems with all Polaris submarines.   In 1991 HMS Resolution carried out a 108 day patrol and then was sent back out on patrol after a 7 day break, because other Polaris submarines were not fit to sail.
  13. December 1991 HMS Revenge Faslane. It was announced that the submarine would be scrapped rather than given a third refit as originally planned. This was attributed to the discovery of reactor problems.
  14. 30 April 1992 HMS Turbulent Devonport. Electrical fire in switchroom. Fire was next to the reactor compartment and took 3 hours to extinguish. Failure of ventilation system resulted in 24 people being taken to hospital for effects of smoke.
  15. August 1995 HMS Sceptre. Unplanned return to Faslane, reported as radiation leak.
  16. February 1997 HMS Sceptre Cryptographic officer court-martialled for keeping top secret codes in his locker.
  17. 7 November 1997 HMS Turbulent North Atlantic. Leak of reactor coolant at sea. 130 crew and 6 workers tested for radiation when the submarine returned to Devonport.
  18. 7 November 1997 HMS Spartan Irish Sea Fatal accident involving a mast.
  19. January 1998 HMS Torbay Devonport. Tug abandoned HMS Torbay as a result of excessive hours worked by tug crew.
  20. July 1998 HMS Vanguard Celtic Deep. Submariners terrified as submarine goes into uncontrolled dive at great depth following a power failure.
  21. 13 October 1998 HMS Trenchant Portugal. Submarine broke down and returned to Devonport.
  22. April 1999 HMS Superb off West coast of Scotland. Unspecified problems as sea.
  23. March 100 HMS Sceptre Rosyth. Serious accident when the submarine broke free from its mooring and shot forward 30 feet inside the dock.
  24. 12 May 2000 HMS Tireless Mediterranean Radiation leak.   Crew were instructed from London to restart the reactor which made the problem worse. Took 1 year to repair reactor in Gibraltar
  25. November 2000 HMS Triumph hit the seabed off the West coast of Scotland when 3 miles off course during submarine commanders exercise. Two junior officers, who had been suffering from extreme fatigue, were court-martialled.
  26. November 2000 HMS Turbulent and Torbay found to have the same reactor defect as HMS Tireless.
  27. November 2000 HMS Victorious ran aground on Skelmorlie Bank in the Clyde estuary
  28. 6 November 2002 HMS Trafalgar crashed into the seabed at 14 knots with a trainee at the controls during a submarine commander’s training course. Navigation aids had been covered with post-it notes by the instructor.
  29. November 2002 HMS Vanguard Leak of reactor coolant during refit.
  30. May 2003 HMS Tireless hit an iceberg while sailing underwater.  The crew were under the false impression that their sonar system could detect icebergs. Board of Inquiry found there was “insufficient focus (HQ and on board) on the hazards to submarine safety presented by icebergs”.
  31. 28 April 2004 HMS Trafalgar Devonport 11 crew members refused to go to sea because of safety concerns. They included 3 out of 4 safety speciallists. One reported that there were 250 defects on the vessel.
  32. 2004 HMS Trafalgar Faslane. Unauthorised discharge of reactor coolant. Resulted in final warning letter from Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.
  33. November 2005 HMS Victorious Devonport. Unauthorised discharge of coolant during refit.
  34. 2006 HMS Trafalgar. Leak of radioactive coolant at sea.
  35. March 2007 HMS Tireless under the Arctic ice cap. Air purification equipment exploded killing two sailors.  The Board of Inquiry was concerned that the safety case had not given adequate attention to the potential for explosion in a contaminated Self Contained Oxygen Generator. Advice for dealing with a fire with this equipment was not consistent.
  36. 24 August 2007 HMS Superb Faslane. Unauthorised discharge of reactor coolant. Resulted in second final warning letter from Scottish Environmental Protection Agency. This pointed out that the radioactive waste management practices at Faslane were inadequate.
  37. 20 February 2008 HMS Torbay Faslane. Leak of reactor coolant. Warning letter from SEPA.
  38. 26 May 2008 HMS Superb Red Sea Hit rocks 80 miles South of the Suez canal.
  39. 7 November 2008 HMS Trafalgar Devonport. Leak of 280 litres of reactor coolant.
  40. 3 / 4 February 2009 HMS Vanguard North Atlantic Collision with French nuclear-armed submarine Le Triomphant.  Details of incident highly classified.
  41. 25 March 2009 HMS Turbulent Devonport. Small leak of reactor coolant.
  42. 2009 HMS Talent Devonport . Loss of primary and alternative power supply from shore.
  43. 22 October 2010 HMS Astute Skye. Runs aground and is stuck on rocks for several hours.  Attributed to navigation errors compounded by equipment deficiencies.
  44. 8 April 2011 HMS Astute Southampton. One officer killed and a second injured by a crew member.
  45. 2011 HMS Trafalgar Loss of AC power supply from shore.
  46. 29 July 2012 Devonport   Loss of power supply for submarine reactor coolant.
  47. 4 February 2013 HMS Tireless . Coolant leak off West coast of Scotland. The submarine returned to Devonport for repair.

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