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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

S.African Anti-Nuclear Group Says ’No’ To British Nuke Sub Visit

An anti-nuclear group has called on South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) not to allow the British nuclear submarine HMS Sceptre to dock in Simon’s Town.

Royal Navy photo of HMS Sceptre.

TimesLive said the South African Navy, acting on behalf of its British counterpart, had applied to the NNR for permission for the Sceptre to enter Simon's Town from March 18th to the 29th.

Chairman of the Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA), Peter Becker, said his organisation viewed the history of the British nuclear submarine "with alarm." Becker said:

If the National Nuclear Regulator 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 KAA’s submission to the Nuclear Regulator said there was a small risk that the HMS Sceptre’s nuclear reactor could release radioactive particles, gas or other harmful materials while docked at Simon’s Town. He said:

This risk is heightened by the age of this vessel, and the fact that it is about to be decommissioned.
The official British Royal Navy website says HMS Sceptre is a submarine of the Swiftsure Class and was first commissioned on 14th February 1978.

Wikipedia gives a long list of problems experienced by the Royal Navy’s oldest vessel, which is expected to be decommissioned sometime this year.

The Sceptre collided with a Soviet submarine in the early 1980s, nearly causing an automatic emergency shutdown of the reactor. The crew were ordered to say they had hit an iceberg. The facts of the matter were established in a television interview in 1991.

In 1987 the submarine had a nuclear coolant leak at Devonport. In 1991, the Sceptre suffered an onboard fire while alongside at the dock at the Royal Navy facility at Faslane.

In 1995, Sceptre was forced to abandon her underwater patrol after suffering ”an unspecified fault in the propulsion system.” The submarine’s propulsion system is based on nuclear power.

A defect was found in Sceptre’s reactor in 1998, after which HMS Sceptre suffered a spectacularly serious accident.

In March 2000, Sceptre was in dry dock at the Rosyth yards undergoing trials when due to an error, the engines went to full speed ahead. The submarine broke her moorings and shot forward within the dry dock, moving forward some 10 metres (30 feet), rupturing a steam line, buckling scaffolding and pushing an industrial crane forward about five metres (15 feet.)

Following this incident, the Royal Navy investigation suggested the HMS Sceptre be scrapped.
However, in December 2003, Sceptre was accepted back into Britain’s submarine fleet after undergoing sea-trials.

But, in 2005, Sceptre came alongside at Gibraltar for repairs. This resulted in the Spanish foreign minister registering a ”firm protest” with his British counterpart. He also demanded that Sceptre be the last nuclear submarine to be repaired at Gibraltar.

The Sceptre has visited South Africa before, in 2007. (source digitaljourna)