Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Brit Reactor Design Flaws?

Here's a story from the Guardian talking about how the British MoD's "senior nuclear safety expert" is warning that the new generation of UK submarine reactors are potentially "vulnerable" to accident. Excerpts:
The MoD's senior nuclear safety expert warns that the safety of submarine reactors compares "poorly" with that of nuclear power stations, and there could be dangerous leaks of radioactivity. There was also a risk of "multiple fatalities" from submarines failing to surface, he says.
Yet the reactors are being installed in a new £10bn fleet of Astute submarines. And they are still under consideration for the submarines due to replace those that carry Trident nuclear missiles from 2028...
..."Current UK practice falls significantly short of benchmarked relevant good practice," he warns. The pressurised water reactors that run submarines are "potentially vulnerable to a structural failure of the primary circuit".
This could cause "a release of highly radioactive fission products" and "a significant risk to life to those in close proximity and a public safety hazard out to 1.5km from the submarine", McFarlane says.
"Current designs of UK and global civil power plants have systems for safety injection of coolant into the reactor pressure vessel head and passive core cooling systems," he adds...
...The MoD is also trying to decide on the type of reactor to drive the submarines destined to replace the Vanguards. The declassified MoD document discloses that there are several options still under consideration.
One, known as PWR2, is "essentially" similar to the Astute class, while another, PWR2b, has "significantly modified systems to improve platform safety and survivability". A third, PWR3, is described as a "new propulsion plant based on a US design but using UK reactor technology".
While the article does contain some "the sky is falling!" language that one would expect from the press for anything nuclear, it's not as bad as many I've seen. What was interesting to me is that it appears that the Brits went away from just licensing U.S. reactor designs (with concomitant NR oversight) in favor of indigenously-designed plants, with predictably bad results. Our Brit brothers should have learned by now -- if you want good reactors, let NR design them. Some pale British substitute organization is no replacement for the real thing.

[Be careful about posting NNPI, please, when discussing this article.]


Anonymous MentalJim said...

If they design and build reactors like they did their cars then watch out. (this coming from a fan and owner of Britsh cars).

3/10/2011 9:19 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What was interesting to me is that it appears that the Brits went away from just licensing U.S. reactor designs (with concomitant NR oversight) in favor of indigenously-designed plants, with predictably bad results."

They got an S5W for their first sub, and of course we give them design data, but aside from that first one, they've been designing and building their own for the last 40 years or so.

Before you start with the flag waving and Brit bashing, maybe consider the possibility that the flaws came from parts of the design they lifted from us.

3/10/2011 9:25 AM

Anonymous Blah, bla-blah, bla-blahhh said...

You do realize that this is The Guardian you're quoting, right, Joel...? Pretty tin-foil hat stuff.

The actual report that they're flapping their moonbat wings over is here (.pdf).

Notable quote: "There has been strong collaboration with the US, particularly on the Common Missile Compartment (the US need to replace their Ohio class SSBNs in a similar timeframe), and Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) and other propulsion technology."

As the report goes on to say, they're considering two designs, one, "PWR2," a Vanguard/Astute (Brit) adaptation, and the other, "PWR3," a US-based design using UK technology.

The report is heavily redacted, but the net-net is that THERE IS NOTHING in this report that goes beyond boiler plate LOCA (loss of cooling accident) yadda-yadda that accompanies any PWR design.

The Guardian story...which directly lifts its words from a blog it cites, by the just hoakum.

3/10/2011 9:59 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

is the reference to land based reactor safety features really an insinuation that they need an emergency water injection system on their submarines?

i just don't see the point in including that snippet. if that is what is to be inferred, do they realize that they're discussing submarine reactors?

3/10/2011 10:09 AM

Anonymous laughter_in_manslaughter said...

There was also a risk of "multiple fatalities" from submarines failing to surface, he says.

Way to figure out that submarines go under water Guardian.

3/10/2011 11:51 AM

Anonymous NHSparky said...

And having worked on both commercial and naval reactors, aside from fission and your basic components, there's a significant number of differences between, say, an S5W or D1G plant versus a Westinghouse or Mitsubishi plant, space considerations being a primary consideration on the former plants.

Read the Guardian story--crap, crap, crap.

3/10/2011 1:08 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, the article didnt say much. Have the Brits had reactor problems in the past? Or is this the usual nuclear hysteria?

3/10/2011 1:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

They will end up selling the subs to the Canadian Navy...and you know what happened the last time they did that!

3/10/2011 1:10 PM

Anonymous NHSparky said...

Anon at 1:09: Vegas line is currently at 99-1 on overblown idiot civilian nuclear hysteria.

Trust me, I hear enough of it from the townies outside the gate, and this place has been running without incident for over 20 years.

3/10/2011 1:19 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

UK Guardian reporter Rob Edwards is not guilty of the typically shoddy journalism common in the U.S. In this case, any hyperbolized conclusions were carefully laid by the MoD's senior nuclear safety regulator, Commodore Andrew McFarlane himself.

McFarlane's key conclusion was:
"Current UK practice falls significantly short of benchmarked relevant good practice," he warns.

The good Commodore is observing applicable law requiring the MOD to reduce the safety risk to people as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP), that is until further improvement would entail costs disproportionate to safety benefit.

One can imagine this position is very popular with both RN bubbleheads, with whom we sympathize, and with backers of John Ainslie, co-ordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, who called on the government to scrap the Trident replacement programme.

TSSP readers who have followed the recent record of success with new sub construction should view the probability of lightning striking again as a fairly serious matter, as the length of one submarine's ongoing sea trials insistantly reminds the Brits.

3/10/2011 1:35 PM

Blogger KellyJ said...

Regardless of the article and the neigh-sayer anti-nuke dolts...
As much as ORSE is a Pain in the rear (especially the workups) and having NR make those wonderful 4AM visits to the boat, you can't argue with success.

3/10/2011 3:09 PM

Anonymous Just sayin' said...

In all seriousness, and after having had a good laugh at the Guardian article, it's well known that the Brits do run a slack ship back aft as compared to the U.S.

Just sayin'.

3/10/2011 4:15 PM

Blogger DDM said...

In researching the reference provided I found the following in Wikipedia. It basically says that NASA took a benchmarking trip to NR:

By the way, you could pretty much exchange U.S. design with Brit design and find the same flaws with our reactor designs.

3/10/2011 5:31 PM

Anonymous Yawn said...

Use of the poorly chosen word "flaw" when it comes to NR reactor design is like saying "crack whore" to describe your wife. It probably overreaches a bit when it comes to the emotional effect...not to mention reality.

3/10/2011 5:43 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last I checked, subs don't need an "emergency injection" system like the commercial plants due to the rules governing power operations pierside. Underway, the big deep ocean will fill 'er up in no time.

3/10/2011 6:33 PM

Anonymous analee said...

Thank you for sharing this excellent article.

3/11/2011 12:59 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

^... (spam)

3/11/2011 4:49 AM

Anonymous NHSparky said...

And with the Japanese reactor having issues after their 8.9 quake this morning (and face it--who WOULDN'T?), I'm kind of curious as to what's causing or the source of their primary leak. Is it primary-secondary, or did a crack develop in a weld joint? And why the hell did the pressure get as high as it did without reliefs kicking in?

Curiouser and curiouser.

3/11/2011 2:26 PM

Anonymous Richard 595 said...

For Sparky:
The Japanese plants are Boiling Water, the primary coolant boils in the reactor to form the steam in the top of the RV. No secondary circuit.

The relief valves lift inside the containment into a large pool of water called the suppression pool.

Water in normally pumped by motor driven pumps from the pool into the reactor to restore level.

3/12/2011 3:17 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gotta agree with 'Just Sayin'... last time I toured one of their attack boats, the engine room was scary lax. I was kind of jealous of the quick and easy SSMG cleaning technique but it, too, was pretty scary.


3/13/2011 6:32 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

They're lax compared to the US in a lot of ways. Had a Brit sub moored near us in San Diego when a garbage scow was badly handled and whacked the back end of us and them. We rigged for divers in the water, got divers, and had them perform a screw inspection. After we were done screwing around-

The Brits closed their hatches, and put their topside watch in the sail. An officer and a rating went in the water in an inflatable. (Want to guess who was rowing?) They opened the forward MBT vents. The inspecting team rowed under the screw, checked it out completely, then returne to the pier. Low pressure blow until back on an even keel, and return to normal.

Why, I remember them coming in to their berth. No one topside had on a lifejacket! And no one was court-martialed for it!

3/13/2011 1:35 PM

Anonymous Geraldine said...

Thank you for this post, really effective piece of writing.

9/24/2012 3:00 AM


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