Last month the MoD proposed an old nuclear site at Chapelcross, near Annan in Dumfries and Galloway, as a potential store for the waste. But this now looks likely to be dropped as a result of Lochhead’s intervention.
That means that the waste will end up at one of the four sites suggested by the MoD in England. They are the Sellafield nuclear complex in Cumbria, the Capenhurst nuclear site in Cheshire, and the MoD nuclear weapons plants at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire.
The MoD has been trying to decide for more than a decade what to do with the seven old submarines tied up at Rosyth, as well as 11 at Devonport on the south coast of England. Its latest plan is to dismantle them at the two dockyards, and to move the resulting waste elsewhere.
The Sunday Herald revealed in February that taking apart the Rosyth submarines would produce over 3,600 tonnes of radioactive waste. Lower level wastes will go to the official dump at Drigg near Sellafield, and higher-level wastes are meant for a store at a site still to be decided.
The proposed store is described by the MoD as “interim”, though it will be designed to last over 100 years and have the capacity to take waste from an additional nine submarines currently in service. The eventual aim is to dispose of the waste in an underground repository, but to date no community has agreed to host one.
“We are aware that Chapelcross is on the initial list of possible storage sites for the waste arising from the submarine dismantling project,” said a Scottish government spokeswoman.
“The Scottish government has made clear to the MoD that this waste should not be stored in Scotland and we will continue to make this case. It is clear that MoD has identified other potential storage locations, and this is a matter for them to determine.”
The move by Scottish ministers has been welcomed by environmental and community groups. “Good on the Scottish government for rejecting the UK’s military nuclear waste,” said Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.
“It is bad enough that Scotland has been home to nuclear weapons of mass destruction for decades. It would be an extra insult to have to store thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste from defunct nuclear subs.”
He accused the UK government of wanting to have it both ways. “They control military spending so they should deal with the resulting nuclear nightmare they have created,” he said.
Jane Tallents from the Nuclear Submarine Forum, which brings together concerned communities, pointed out that no one in Scotland was asked before the submarines were based at Faslane and seven of them laid up at Rosyth.
“Scottish ministers are entitled to say that they don't want this waste stored in Scotland and the MoD must respect that,” she said. “The difficulties posed in dealing with nuclear submarine dismantling means that not building any more is an obvious part of the solution.”
Tallents called on Westminster to follow Holyrood’s lead and get rid of reactor-driven submarines. “The UK government should consider what brings real security for people and stop taking risks and wasting money with nuclear powered submarines,” she added.
The MoD pointed out that the safe storage of submarine waste was the responsibility of the UK government. “Sites across the UK are being considered fairly and equally on the same basis,” said an MoD spokesman.
“We are working closely with the Scottish government and the views of stakeholders around Scottish sites will be considered fully during public consultation.”
The defunct submarines currently awaiting disposal