ANTI-nuclear campaigners last night accused Southampton council leaders of putting lives at risk as they agreed to adopt one of the Navy’s deadliest submarines.

Councillors ignored pleas to reject an invitation by the Royal Navy to establish a formal affiliation with the third of its new nuclear powered stealth subs, HMS Artful.

The Solent Coalition Against Nuclear ships (SCANS), which has been campaigning for the past decade to keep the docks nuclear free, said the “desires of the Navy” had been put before the “safety of citizens”.

A group of protesters had gathered outside, carrying a banner saying : “No to subs” ahead of the meeting.

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Speaking at the meeting of the council’s Tory cabinet, SCANS chairman David Hoadley said: “We are not against the city twinning with Navy ships but a nuclear submarine is not the right choice. Bringing a floating nuclear reactor into the heart of a busy commercial port has too many risks.

Submarine reactors are more unstable compared to those in power stations.”

But council leader Royston Smith said a once-in-20,000-year risk of a radiation leak was “acceptable” and he insisted the armed services would always be welcome to visit Southampton.

The civic relationship with HMS Artful, which is being built in Cumbria at a cost of nearly £1bn, will replace the link with HMS Southampton, a Type 42 Destroyer which was de-commissioned last year after a 28-year career.

All political parties backed the move, despite a previous Labour administration declaring the city a nuclear free zone.

Councillor Smith said: “I hope that people in Southampton will take a strong interest in the work of their affiliated submarine and that, in turn, we will be able to welcome members of Artful’s ship’s company to the city on a regular basis.”

In a statement issued last night, Rear Admiral Martin Alabaster said: “Southampton’s naval heritage is virtually unparalleled and it seems fitting that a very modern vessel like Artful forms a strong link with a vibrant, forward- looking city like Southampton.”

HMS Artful will be more complex than the space shuttle and will be able to circumnavigate the globe without surfacing while making less noise than a baby dolphin.