Troubled Trafalgar class nuclear submarine, HMS Tireless, in new reactor coolant leak

HMS Tireless was the third of the Trafalgar class hunter-killer nuclear submarines. These are not nuclear armed but nuclear powered and conventionally armed.

Tireless was launched in 1985 and, at  28 years old, was due to be decommissioned this year. However, her service was extended for another four years due to the delay in the rollout of the new Astute class submarines.

Ten days ago, Tireless was taking part in a training exercise for new officers off the west coast, when a coolant leak developed within its sealed reactor unit. The Ministry of Defence has said that no risk was involved  to the public the environment or the crew.

Tireless was ordered back to the Faslane naval base on the Clyde where engineers inspected the leak; and then returned to her home base at Devonport.

She is said to face up to 10 months in dry dock while repair work is carried out.

Tireless is most famous for a series of troubling incidents.

She collided with an iceberg at 60 metres down on 13th May 2003 [it would have been the 13th]. This was the first return of the navy to under-ice operations since 1996. Neither her passive sonar nor other onboard sensors. had given any warning of the proximity of the iceberg.  Tireless’s bow was forced down 9 degrees and she subsequently broke free of the iceberg at a depth of 78 metres. Some damage was done to her upper section.

She suffered an earlier leak  of her reactor coolant , in May 2000 in the Mediterranean. This saw her nuclear propulsion system shut down, with backup diesel power getting her into Gibraltar. She spent a year there under extensive repairs,  becoming the focus of serious diplomatic strain.

In March 2007, on deployment back in the Arctic, it was Tireless that had an internal explosion  in her forward section – later found to be caused by a defective or obsolete oxygen candle.This killed two of her crew – Leading Operator Mechanic Paul McCann; and Operator Maintainer (Weapons Submariner) 2 Anthony Huntrod.

Following the current incident, there is real concert that the cost of the failures experienced by  the new Astute hunter-killers – in forcing the extension of the lives of ageing Trafagar class submarines like Tireless – may be asking the impossible or the dangerous.

The problems in with commissioning of the Astute submarines are having a knock on effect on the nuclear safety of the older Tralfalgar hunter-killers that were due for decommissioned.

This latest reactor coolant leak is seen as potential evidence that this ship is actually reaching the end of her life. It may be that she has to be decommissioned and will not emerge from the extensive repair period now necessary.

Her preceding two siblings – class leader, HMS Trafalgar and HMS Turbulent have already been decommissioned, Tralfalgar in 2009 and Turbulent in JUly last year, 2012.

The current incident has reduced the hunter-killer fleet to a maximum of five instead of the recommended seven plus a spare needed to carry out vital duties, including protecting the UK’s Trident missile-carrying Vanguard submarines.

Of those five,Astute, Britain’s brand new £1.2billion attack submarine which – gloriously – ran aground in 2010 for the ultimate photo opportunity – just beside the Skye Bridge -  is still not fully operational. One other, possibly two, are in maintenance.

This latest incident comes just weeks after the Clyde-based Trident submarine,  HMS Vigilant ,was stranded in the US after its rudder broke, just after her £350million refit.

The leak will also fuel the heated political debate about nuclear submarines operating in Scottish waters.

Last night, local MSP, Michael Russell MSP for Argyll and Bute, called on the Ministry of Defence to clarify exactly what had happened. He said: “This is the latest in a long line of alarming incidents involving nuclear submarines off the coast of Scotland. ‘

Andy Smith of the UK National Defence Association, says: ‘The problems with HMS Tireless illustrate the folly of trying to have ‘defence on the cheap’ and failing to upgrade or replace equipment due to political short-sightedness and a defence policy dictated by the treasury rather than the military.’

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27 Responses to Troubled Trafalgar class nuclear submarine, HMS Tireless, in new reactor coolant leak

  1. Did it run out of horse-power? Must have ran off to Tesco.

    Oh no, I have been infected with that awful virus going around just now, Horsejoke-itis.

    On a serious note, this sub needs retiring, before something really catastrophic happens and there is major loss of life – either on board or otherwise.

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    • I’d love to hear what info the MOD are willing to trust this dodgy MSP with. Hey Russell, please let us know if you do get any response.

      Even if the Nats managed to rig the Indy vote there will still be British and American Nuclear subs ploughing Scottish waters, lets face it who will stop them.

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      • How many insults can you fit into four lines?

        If you think the MOD are going to be honest about ANYTHING you are mistaken. “…no risk to the public, blah blah blah…. or the crew, blah blah …or the environment, blah blah blah”. Standard answer, standard sh%&e!

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        • We have first hand evidence that the MOD routinely lie when it suits them.
          Any reassurances they announce are never automatically to be believed – but, in the reverse of crying wolf, this does not mean that the opposite of that they say on any occasion is necessarily wrong.
          It is simply unwise to trust them without substantial external corroboration – which in thin on the ground.

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  2. Is there any substance in the story coming out that a nuclear sub was seconds away from disaster with the loss of all crew of onboard due to the boat going into an uncontrolled dive off the coast of the USA.

    What was the cause of the recently reported structural buckling on a new nuclear sub that is reported to have problem after problem.

    Running aground on Skye for all the world to see does not seem to be the only problem. What about the reactor.

    What contingency plans do the MOD have to recover a stricken sub that ends up on the bottom.

    Serious questions that require to be addressed and are our armed forces being made a laughing stock with defective equipment purchased at astronomical cost. Don’t expect an answer, but what do we spend our defence money on. Corporate greed perchance whilst service personnel do their duty.

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    • Willie should be barred from asking any questions or getting any answers until such time as he answers the questions Simon has put to him which he is feered to answer or does not have the guts to answer.

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  3. Willie, why don’t you answer the questions?

    Here I’ll answer one of yours and then you answer the ones you’ve been avoiding for days now.

    “Is there any substance in the story….” No. You made it up….

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    • awsnews says… “Could someone explain how passive sonar can be used to detect icebergs?”

      Easy…just type “passive sonar iceberg detection” into a the google search box and then you can do it yourself

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. Dunno Awsnews, don’t even know what it is. But it certainly appears that it cannae detect landmass like Skye, let alone icebergs.

    I do know however from sitting in the jump seat of commercial airliners that the plane’s radars show up clouds so that the captain can maybe avoid them.

    Icebergs will be different, as will land mass. Technolgy changes all the time.

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  5. Such an anti-nuclear stance from SNP is commendable I’m sure, but I always wonder if they are barking up the wrong tree.
    Why do I say that? Well, here’s a few thoughts.
    Deep Horizon – how many lives were lost in that catastrophe? And what was the damage to wildlife as a result.
    Now, then tell me how many oil wells etc.. we have off the coast of Scotland. What’s the risk here? Have we have any leaks recently?
    Aircraft – Are the SNP lobbying to have the Dreamliner banned from Scottish airspace (I know there are none scheduled at the moment, but let’s go with the thought)? After aqll, if something happened once, it’s BOUND to happen again, no?
    Alcohol – given the deaths and illnesses caused EVERY SINGLE DAY by alcohol in this country, when will the SNP stop this charade of minimum pricing and ban it altogether? After all, more people die every year in Scotland through alcohol that have died in nuclear incidents EVER in Scotland. Not fancying it? Unpopular with the electorate? Ah well, that makes sense and is in everybodys interests :) Not to mention, oil and whisky are the backbone of Indy – how ironic eh?
    Don’t worry about answering Willie, I’m sure you’ll not answer directly, but surely your shock horror total anti-nuclear stance is fairly disproportionate to the risk it carries when you compare to the lives lost elsewhere in every day activities or through everyday goods?
    As I say, you can scaremonger all day long, but eventually people get sick of it. I accept nuclear power, weapons have a risk, but also accept i’m much more likely to die thanks to a drunk driver or truck going through my front window. There are far greater horrors out there affecting so many normal people everyday, that nuclear is one that does not really register on my radar. Skye does tho :)

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  6. Pingback: Troubled Trafalgar class nuclear submarine, HMS Tireless, in new reactor coolant leak | Submarine Diary

  7. Jamie, you’re absolutely correct when you say that nuclear weapons carry a risk.

    Well done for that thoughtful and incisive observation. That’ll stimulate debate.

    Not sure exactly about your greater perceived risk of dying because of a truck going through your front window or that the people in Chernobyl, Fuskishima, Three Mile, Windscale, Hiroshima or Nagasaki would agree.

    No doubt you intended a serious comment.

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  8. Well, I was being serious Willie but you miss the point. Completely. Change the subject, don’t answer the question, belittle the commenter, ridicule the argument – anything but actually respond to the points being made.

    It’s becoming a tyical SNP trait. Almost to the point it’s not even worth the effort.

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  9. Jamie, nobody would try to belittle you.

    Your comment that nuclear weapons carry a risk will be recognised by many as being incisive.Indeed, many will very much whole heartedly agree especially if they hadn’t come to that conclusion before.

    Ever read anything about risk management. Two ends of the spectrum are low probability with huge effect. Or high probability with minimal effect. Where do Fukishima and Chernobyl sit, do you think.

    But there are other risk scenarios. What about high probability and huge effect, or medium probabilty and medium effect. Think about that and once you have think about Astute with it’s pressurised water reactor and whatever running aground on Skye.

    Would you expect a £2bn boat to land on the rocks. Or what about structural deformation and buckling. Again not the type of thing you would expect on a new nuclear sub. Presumably the buckling was caused by water pressure.

    Maybe you’re comfortable about this but my concern on the loss of a nuclear sub would be fourfold, the loss of life of the crew, the environmental impact, the cost of the clean up if that were possible, and the cost of the loss of a multi billion pound boat itself.

    Similarly, the Japanese are post Fukishima considering the use of nuclear power. The Germans already have and are shutting their reactors down in favour of wind and short term coal.

    So yes Jamie, you are correct to opine that there is a risk with nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

    And no, I am not trying to belittle you.

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  10. Okay, I take on board what you are saying – you have eleborated what I know or can agree with but in terms of risk, I accept that risk, as most people in Scotland do – if we didn’t, I think you would hear more about it. I truly believe that people in Scotland are not as passionate about nuclear weapons or power than the SNP would make out – hence why I believe it should be voted on. I appreciate not everything can be put out to vote, but nuclear and EU I think should be.

    Anyway, I digress. I’m simply trying to highlight that on the one hand the SNP are opposed to nuclear because they think it’s so risky, and yet we have oil fields which are a disaster waiting to happen. One incident like Deep Horizon and the whole ecosystem on the east coast wil be wiped out. And I don’t think I’m exagerrating either. We had a leak not so long ago, how long before the next?

    Do you think that’s an acceptable risk Willie?

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    • Jamie,

      Are you sure you aren’t raising phantoms with this talk of oily doom? We’ve already had the Braer and the Piper Alpha disaster without an East Coast eco-wipeout. The North Sea is not the Gulf of Mexico. The real danger lies in the UK government’s removal of the salvage tugs that used to be permanently on station and their coastguard cutbacks.

      Re. nuclear – I think it is important to differentiate between the issues of nuclear electricity and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. These are two completely different issues.

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      • Maybe I am raising phantoms…in the exact way nuclear does. They both have their phantoms, and so concludes my point.

        Is one really worse than the other?

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        • Jamie, you are not really comparing like with like. Oil is largely used to create liquid fuel to run trains, planes and automobiles (oh, and shipping of course). Nuclear is used exclusively to generate electricity.

          Increasing our nuclear generating capacity would only reduce the need for oil if there was a massive expansion of electric cars. That would still leave trucks, ships and planes requiring liquid fuel though.

          We can generate electricity in a lot of ways other than nuclear. We cannot at the moment manufacture large quantities of liquid fuel for tranasport without using oil.

          So – you are comparing apples with oranges!

          On a slightly different matter, the attitude of the Scottish government to new nuclear build is irrelevant at the moment, as no-one wants to build nuclear plants anywhere in the UK – at least, not without a huge subsidy which the UK government is reluctant to offer.

          In the meantime, the Scottish government has indicated that it is happy to allow an extension to the lifespan of Hunterston and Torness.

          UPDATE
          It turns out that the UK government has today indicated that it IS prepared to offer huge subsidies right up to 2050 to nuclear operators prepared to build new plant in the UK.

          ARTICLE HERE

          Ironically, the recipient of these huge subsidies is likely to be EDF, a company wholly owned by the French state.

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  11. As an aside – the Germans are going to be importing power from stations just over the border in France to fill the power gaps. Wise move knee-jerk reactions from the Germans? hmm… Ker-ching for the French! £$£$

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    • Only until they finish the 20 brown coal fired stations they’re building to replace the nuclear ones the greens forced Merkel to close early! D’oh! :)

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  12. Just a thought re; nuclear weapons. How many other countries feel the need to have them?
    I understand it’s only SEVEN: US, Russia, France, Pakistan, India and Israel and maybe, China.
    Our major allies like Australia, Canada, Spain, Italy, Germany,
    Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Denmark etc etc do not have them and huge parts of the world like Central and South America and Africa have other priorities.
    So why do the narrow little BritNats insist on having this dangerous but useless piece of crap which runs aground every now and then????

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    • There’s no maybe about China; they have more nuclear weapons than the UK does. North Korea have tested but may not have a practical weapon yet, South Africa did have weapons but disposed of them after the end of apartheid, and Iran would really like to have them too.

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