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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Anti-nuke group opposes British ship visit

An anti-nuclear pressure group has urged that the ageing British submarine HMS Sceptre, scheduled to visit Simon's Town next month, be kept out of South African waters.

CONNING ARTISTS: Ntombizanele Mohloboli, atop the submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke. Pic: Alon Sky. 14/11/2008. ? The Times

Chairman of Koeberg Alert Alliance Peter Becker said on Monday his organisation noted "with alarm" the history of the nuclear-powered vessel.

This included a collision in the 1980s which the Royal Navy apparently lied to the public about, a coolant leak in 1990, an on-board fire in 1991, a defect in the reactor discovered in 1998, and a drydock accident in 2000.

After the 2000 accident, he said, it was recommended that the vessel be scrapped.

"Subsequently the vessel was brought back into service, required further repairs in 2005 in Gibraltar, and is planned to be decommissioned in 2010," he said.

"If the National Nuclear Regulator [NNR] requires several kilometres as a safety exclusion zone for the Koeberg nuclear power station, how come this ageing nuclear-powered vessel is allowed to dock within a few hundred metres of a residential area?"

The South African Navy, acting on behalf of its British counterpart, has applied to the NNR for permission for the sub to enter Simon's Town from March 18 to 29.

The NNR has in turn invited objections from organisations and individuals.

In a submission sent to the NNR last week, the alliance said the regulatory body would be failing in its duties if it allowed the Sceptre to enter South African waters.

It said there was a small but very real risk that the nuclear reactor in this vessel might release radioactive particles, gas, or other material due to a technical fault, or human error.

"This risk is heightened by the age of this vessel, and the fact that it is about to be decommissioned," the submission said.

The NNR could not give permission before the public was allowed to examine the contingency and evacuation plans for such a radioactivity release.

The Sceptre, built in 1978, has visited South Africa before, in 2007.

At the time, the SA Navy said in a media release that in the late 1990s the boat began six years of a costly refit "that has equipped her to carry on well into the next decade".

In the early 1980s she had a glancing collision with a Russian submarine but the crew were told to say they had hit an iceberg.

This incident was disclosed in 1991 when a former weapons officer on the submarine gave a television interview.

In February 2005 the Sceptre put in at Gibraltar for repairs to what British officials said was damage to the cooling system of the boat's diesel generator.

Spain's foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos nonetheless registered a "firm protest" with his British counterpart, and insisted that Sceptre be the last British submarine repaired at Gibraltar.
(source timeslive)