DELAYS TO the upgrade of Devonport naval base in Plymouth could hold up vital nuclear submarine refitting work, it emerged this week.
With the first nuclear submarine, HMS Vanguard, due at the site within weeks, Devonport owner and operator DML still has to demonstrate to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) that it can satisfy safety requirements for the delicate and hazardous job of defuelling and decontaminating the submarine's reactor.
Restrictions on the use of a new transporter system which carries fuel rods from submarines to a storage facility could mean that the dockyard will be unable to start refitting work on schedule.
The NII restricted activities that can be carried out by DML in September after reviewing upgrade work on Nine Dock.
Work started in February 1998 and has involved extending the existing dock basin, seismic floor and wall strengthening, and installation of a 'low level' system for storing and moving nuclear materials (NCE 15 July 1999).
The low level system reduces the amount of lifting needed when contractors change fuel rods. It comprises a dockside railway plus a 3,000t three storey gantry which straddles the dock and is the first of its kind.
'The programme for the provision of [. . . ] facilities at Devonport continues to be very challenging, ' a review carried out by the NII states.
The NII gave permission for inactive commissioning of the new fuel storage facility, but barred DML from handling radioactive materials.
Unless the ban is lifted, the operator will be unable to proceed with removal of fuel rods, coolant and other highly radioactive materials from the submarine's reactor.
A DML spokesman said the restrictions were 'nothing out of the ordinary' and would not affect the refit schedule.
DML has approval to prepare for handling of radioactive materials, but active commissioning will not be permitted until it has demonstrated that all safety systems and procedures are in place, an NII spokesman said.
The requirements are 'nothing that is going to add greatly to the timetable, ' he added.
Andrew Mylius INFOPLUS The NII report can be found at www. hse. gov. uk