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Report: Workers Glued Sheared Bolts Back Together on Nuclear Sub

HMS Vanguard
HMS Vanguard at Faslane (Royal Navy)

Published Jan 31, 2023 4:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Royal Navy and the UK minister of defense are in an uproar over a handful of broken bolts aboard the nuclear ballistic missile submarine HMS Vanguard - not because the parts are mission-critical, nor because the problem is difficult to fix, but because ship repair workers attempted to hide the damage and carry on. 

HMS Vanguard was in shipyard at Babcock's Devonport Royal Dockyard in Plymouth, UK, from 2015 through last year. She was redelivered to the fleet - four years late - in July 2022.

After her return to the fleet, a defect "from work done in the past" was discovered during a routine inspection and was "reported and fixed." 

The UK tabloid The Sun reports that the defect in question was a set of "at least seven" sheared bolt heads, found in a fastening system for securing pipe insulation on the coolant system for the vessel's reactor. The workers who installed and damaged the bolts did not remove and replace them; instead, they glued the heads back on.

The bolts were not safety-critical, according to Babcock, and the "repair" did not pose a threat to the vessel or its operations. However, it greatly displeased the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence. 

"It’s a disgrace. You can’t cut corners with nuclear," a Royal Navy source told The Sun. "Nuclear standards are never compromised."

The MOD said in a statement that after the discovery of the botched repair, defense secretary Ben Wallace had a conversation with the CEO of Babcock to "seek assurances about future work."

The news follows shortly after the award of a controversial $250,000 performance bonus for three top executives at the civilian Submarine Delivery Agency, a division of the Ministry of Defence.