Submarines: October 24, 2003

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There is a growing movement in Britain to stop building nuclear submarines. And it's all about what to do with the subs when they are no longer needed. Currently, Britain has three nuclear boats under construction, and 16 in service. But the anti-nuclear sub movement is driven by the eleven British nuclear subs that are out of service and tied up at pier side waiting for "disposal." Normally, warships that are no longer in service go to the "breakers" (ship yards that specialize in taking apart ships so that the components can be recycled.) The problem with nuclear subs is that you can't recycle the nuclear reactor, or at least those portions of the reactor that are highly radioactive. When nuclear subs are taken out of service, their nuclear fuel is removed, but the lead and metal container that held the nuclear fuel, and some other components, will remain highly radioactive for centuries. In Britain, no one can agree on what to do with the radioactive bits, and one of the many suggestions has been to stop building nuclear subs. But that does not solve the problem of where to put the radioactive components. No area in Britain wants to be the location of an underground storage area for radioactive submarine parts. Environmentalists threaten to block any effort to send the radioactive items to a storage area overseas. When most of these nuclear subs were built, the plan was to sink them in deep (several miles deep) water when the boats were no longer needed. But this was outlawed by international treaty twenty years ago. Even when everyone agrees on how to dispose of the nuclear subs, it will probably cost over a hundred million dollars per boat to cut them up and then store the radioactive parts. 

 


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