Secret documents released by the National Archives revealed that the UK government plans to dump the 22 radioactive hulks of nuclear submarines in the sea off north west Scotland.

A survey for the Ministry of Defense (MoD) in 1989 identified six sites for “seabed storage” of defunct naval submarines near the islands of Skye, Mull and Barra for up to 60 years – and probably longer.

Detailed and highly confidential MoD studies concluded the plan was “feasible” and would “obviate the international problems which we would face were we to dispose of these vessels in international waters.”

One MoD official said the aim was “to remove submarines from public view”. Another hoped that “everyone will forget about these submarines and that they will be allowed to quietly rot away indefinitely.”

The revelations have sparked anger and outrage from politicians and campaigners, who accused the MoD of seeing Scotland as a “nuclear dustbin”. The MoD stressed that current submarine disposal plans met the strictest standards of safety and security.

Eventually, the 1989 sea-dumping plan ended up being quietly dropped, but the MoD has still not solved the problem of what to do with the accumulating number of nuclear submarines that have now been taken out of service. 

Since the 1990s, thirteen have been laid up at Devonport naval dockyard in Plymouth, nine of them still containing radioactive fuel. 

There are a further 8 nuclear submarines in service, one in overhaul and nine due to come into service at Faslane on the Clyde, including the proposed new generation of 4 Trident-missile armed submarines.

That’s a total of 38 nuclear submarines that will eventually require disposal. The MoD began a public submarine dismantling project in 2000 and announced in 2016 that a nuclear plant at Capenhurst in Cheshire had been chosen as an “interim storage site” for radioactive waste.

A hydro-graphic survey for the MoD mapped six possible dump sites, all along the north west coast of Scotland. One was to the north of the Isle of Skye near Raasay and one to the south near Rum.

However, several officials warned of the difficulties of retrieving submarines from the seabed after 60 years. There was “profound uncertainty” over what condition they would be in, cautioned the MoD’s PJH Evans on 13 March 1989.

Friends of the Earth Scotland suggested that the MoD had failed to learn from previous mistakes. “Instead they came up with this crazy plan to endanger the environment and the livelihoods of the whole of the west of Scotland.

The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament described the MoD plan as “gob-smacking” and “madcap”. It showed “complete disregard” for the health and safety of people in north west Scotland. / ABC Flash Point Nuclear News 2019.

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