Devonport Dockyard loss of power
A loss of power at a city dockyard had “potential nuclear implications”, a MoD report said. The 90-minute power-loss could have been “catastrophic”, a nuclear analyst said.
Devonport Dockyard loss of power ‘had nuclear implications’
A loss of power at a city dockyard had “potential nuclear implications”, a Ministry of Defence (MoD) report said.
The 90-minute power-loss, at Devonport in Plymouth, could have been “catastrophic”, a nuclear analyst said.
Caused by a central nuclear switchboard fault at the yard, it was the most potentially dangerous of 50 “events” recorded in 2012.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has now issued an improvement notice on the dockyard.
Power is essential at the dockyard to ensure reactors on the nuclear submarines are kept cool.
The incident, in July 2012, was regarded as code-B on the sliding scale of “severity” – code A being the most severe.
John Large, an engineer and independent nuclear analyst, said: “The loss of power was a catastrophic event, which is what happened before the Fukushima meltdown.”
According to the improvement notice the dockyard, which is operated by Babcock Marine, has until 31 March 2014 to meet its own operating rules and instructions.
No-one from the operating firm has been available for comment.
However, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it took all safety concerns “extremely seriously” and was aware of the ONR improvement notice.
In a statement issued to BBC News, the MoD said it understood Babcock Marine had agreed an improvement programme with the ONR to “enable the identified issues to be addressed in a timely manner”.
“We will continue to work with Babcock Marine and safety regulators to ensure that safety is managed effectively across the wider Devonport site,” a spokesperson said.
The ONR said Devonport Royal Dockyard Limited had taken action to remedy some of the problems identified and it was satisfied there was “no immediate impact on safety”, but it believed the improvement notice was “necessary”.
In the “site event” report for HM Naval Base Devonport, the MoD said 50 events in 2012 was higher number than the two previous years, but “broadly similar” to the number recorded in 2008 and 2009.
The report said it was “reasonable” to expect a rise in the number of events as there had been a corresponding increase in the number of “submarine” days in specially-designed nuclear dockyard berths.
“With more routine and non-routine nuclear activity, it is reasonable to expect an associated increase in the number of events,” the report said.
The report said previously unidentified faults in standby diesel generators meant the secondary power source was unable to re-supply power for more than 90 minutes.
“Through a combination of factors and additional unidentified defects, this defect was revealed, and resulted in an event with potential nuclear implications,” the report said.
An earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan in March 2011 knocked out cooling systems to reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, three of which melted down.
Devonport resident Ian Avent, who is also the organiser of the Campaign Against Nuclear Storage and Radiation, described the loss of power as “scary”.
Oliver Colvile, the Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said he was very concerned about the situation and intended to speak to Babcock Marine about the actions it was taking.
He said he expected the “highest levels of safety” to be maintained at the dockyard.