British Boat Nuclear Woes
The British attack sub fleet looks like it's continuing to have problems related to their primary coolant systems. Via Lubber's Line (both his home blog and our new group submarine blog, Ultraquiet No More), this article from Times Online details how two boats, HMS Tireless and HMS Torbay, had been pierside in Portsmouth since September:
"Two of the Royal Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines have been banned from operating at sea because of safety concerns.
"One of the submarines ordered to stay in port is HMS Tireless, the Trafalgar-class boat which had to spend a year in a Gibraltar dockyard five years ago after a leak from a cracked pipe in the nuclear reactor’s primary coolant circuit. The second submarine is HMS Torbay, also a Trafalgar-class boat, which completed a £240 million refit only last November. The last time that there were safety concerns about the Navy’s fleet of 12 nuclear-powered submarines — after minute cracks were found in the piping on board HMS Tireless in 2000 — all the boats were ordered back to port for safety checks. Several of the submarines, including HMS Tireless, had to have their coolant circuit pipes replaced.
"Royal Navy sources said that detection equipment was now much more sophisticated and was capable of spotting the minutest of cracks, “scars” or faults in materials that may have been there for years. Since safety for all nuclear boats was paramount, they said, it had been decided to stop them operating at sea until further checks had been carried out...
"... HMS Tireless is now undergoing a previously programmed maintenance and upgrade period and is not expected to leave Devonport until the end of this year. Navy sources said that HMS Torbay has now passed safety checks but that there is, as yet, no date for it to resume operations. "
As the article mentions, the small primary coolant leak on HMS Tireless in Gibraltar caused not only a political row that continues to this day, but also brought a lot of unwanted attention to the British submarine nuclear program. (I discussed the most recent example of the continuing bitterness back in February.) The Brits based a lot of their nuclear safety philosophy on the American model; Adm. Rickover required this when we licensed our nuclear plant design to the Brits for their earlier generation of submarines. So, this may be just another example of good old nuke power caution, or it may be an indication that the Brits need to seriously consider doing a complete primary system changeout on some of their boats; this option, though, would probably cost over a billion pounds, and I'm not sure that the political climate over in the U.K. would support that kind of outlay right now.