On 16 November in response to the recent reports in the Guardian newspaper Rear Admiral SR Lister wrote a letter to the Guardian
"Astute sea trials will rectify problems
As the Royal Navy officer responsible for the delivery of the Astute submarine programme, I must respond to your claims about the performance and potential safety of HMS Astute (Report, 16 November). All those involved in the delivery of our submarines have a duty to the submariners that serve on them to ensure that we provide a safe environment in which to live and work. As a submariner myself, I am acutely aware of the need to meet the exacting safety standards we demand and we are committed to meeting them both for HMS Astute and for the remaining submarines in the class.
I would never allow an unsafe platform to proceed to sea and the purpose of the extensive sea trials HMS Astute is undertaking is to test the submarine in a progressive manner, proving that the design is safe, that it has been manufactured correctly and that she is able to operate safely and effectively. This process reflects the nature of HMS Astute as both a prototype and an operational vessel. We have always known that it would be necessary to identify and rectify problems during sea trials and this is what we have done. All the issues noted in the story have either already been addressed or are being addressed. In particular, while we do not comment on nuclear propulsion issues, or the speed of our submarines, I can assure you that, once HMS Astute deploys operationally, we do not expect there to be any constraints on her ability to carry out her full combat role for the Royal Navy.
I invite the Guardian to spend time on HMS Astute with me to see at first hand the professionalism of the crew, the confidence they have in their boat and the rigour with which sea trials are carried out and problems addressed.
Rear admiral SR Lister
Director submarines, Ministry of Defence"
I was concerned that whilst the letter suggested that the problems reported were those normally expected to be encountered in a newly commissioned class of boat. I thought it was worth highlighting the shortcomings in the resources and expertise needed to ensure the delivery of the nuclear safety of the UK nuclear submarine fleet and the need for the independent regulation of nuclear safety.
Letter of reply to Rear admiral SR Lister published in the Guardian 19 November
" Submarine safety
I read with interest the letter from Rear Admiral SR Lister, director submarines, Ministry of Defence, on the problems with the Astute submarine reported in this paper (17 November). As a former head of radiation protection policy at the MoD, I must say that public confidence would be greatly enhanced if the regulation of nuclear safety for the submarine fleet was transferred from the MoD's internal nuclear safety regulator to the Office for Nuclear Regulation, part of the Health and Safety Executive. It is also worth pointing out that the 2010-11 annual report of the Defence Nuclear and Environment Safety Board clearly shows how the MoD has failed to allocate sufficient resources to nuclear safety, in particular the lack of progress on recruiting and retaining experienced and qualified staff. The report clearly shows that ministers continue to ignore the MoD's internal nuclear regulator in the allocation of resources to support the safety of the naval nuclear propulsion programme.
Fred Dawson Director, Milcon Research"
MOD DNESB annual reports