THE infrastructure for supporting the Royal Navy's fleet of nuclear submarines is no longer ‘fit for purpose’, MPs have warned.
The Commons’ public accounts committee said past decisions to delay maintenance at the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) 13 nuclear sites around the UK had created a ‘ticking time bomb’.
The warning came after the National Audit Office disclosed that the MoD's ‘Nuclear Enterprise’ programme was facing a £2.9bn ‘affordability gap’.
The committee chairman Meg Hillier said that with the MoD already facing ‘challenges’ over the delivery of its new aircraft carriers and a potential £20bn shortfall in its equipment programme, there were ‘serious questions’ over its ability to meet its national security commitments.
Over the next 10 years, the MoD is due to spend £51bn on the Nuclear Enterprise - maintaining and replacing the submarine fleet, including the Vanguard submarines which carry the UK's Trident nuclear deterrent.
Ms Hillier said: ‘I am particularly concerned that the infrastructure available to support the Nuclear Enterprise is not fit for purpose. The MoD admits that while it has previously put off dismantling submarines on grounds of cost, this is no longer acceptable on grounds of safety and reputation. The MoD needs to get on top of this quickly.’
However, the committee warned ‘incorrect’ assumptions in the past about the infrastructure that would be needed meant it did not have the berthing space it needed at the Devonport naval base where maintenance and ‘defuelling’ of the submarines is carried out.
It said the MoD had deferred work on dismantling old submarines which had been taken out of service on "affordability grounds" and there was now a backlog of 20 vessels waiting to be disposed of, including nine which still contained nuclear fuel.
To date, the UK has never completely disposed of an old nuclear submarine and while work has begun on the first, it is not due to be finished until the mid-2020s.
The committee said work on defuelling the next submarine was due to begin around the same time, and that the disposals programme was expected to last "at least a couple of decades".
Ms Hillier said: "I am particularly concerned that the infrastructure available to support the Nuclear Enterprise is not fit for purpose.
"The MoD admits that while it has previously put off dismantling submarines on grounds of cost, this is no longer acceptable on grounds of safety and reputation. The MoD needs to get on top of this quickly."
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