Nova Scotia

British nuclear sub to visit Halifax

A British nuclear submarine will visit the Port of Halifax next month, CBC News has learned, and that has at least one military critic worried about the risk of a nuclear accident.

Accident risk not worth it, military analyst says

A British nuclear submarine will visit the Port of Halifax next month, CBC News has learned, and that has at least one military critic worried about the risk of a nuclear accident.

The British nuclear submarine fleet has been plagued by accidents in recent years, including a fatal explosion and fire, an onboard shooting and an underwater collision with a French sub.There have also been multiple leaks of low-level radiation.

And while the risk of a major accident is small, Steve Staples of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa said, the consequences for Nova Scotians would be dire if the worst should occur.

"If a fire spread to a nuclear reactor and even any of the potential nuclear weapons that could be on board, you could see the release of radiation like we had in Fukushima," Staples said. "Fukushima in Japan required the evacuation of a 20-kilometre radius around the reactor. That would require a half million people to evacuate Halifax within about a day's notice."

Staples doesn't believe Canada has the expertise or equipment to deal with a major nuclear accident on a submarine, and he doesn't think the risk is worth it.

"A visit by a British nuclear submarine and even other submarines on the West Coast are not security related and not related to training. It's really tourism. They're coming simply to give their sailors a break and an opportunity to go enjoy the pubs of downtown Halifax or Victoria," Staples said.

The Royal Canadian Navy won't confirm the British submarine visit is taking place, but in the past has said such visits are safe and that the air and water around the submarine is monitored.

The navy is spending about $1 million to build a permanent nuclear decontamination centre at Canadian Forces Base Shearwater, in nearby Dartmouth. The 250-square-metre concrete block and steel-sided building will house decontamination equipment required every time a nuclear-powered vessel visits Halifax.

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