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Lockheed Martin, BNFL, Serco consortium & defence ministers seriously ‘limited disclosure’ of risk and damage to nuclear warhead site

Lecture venue: Birmingham and Midlands Institute 23rd June – 7pm

Lecture venue: Birmingham and Midlands Institute 23rd June – 7pm

Some online reading was prompted by the news that Chris Crean, regional campaigner for Friends of the Earth, is to give the Diana Stableforth Memorial Lecture on 23rd June. Its title is THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

One story held the attention:

Six years ago at the Atomic Weapons Establishment site at Burghfield in Berkshire, which is run for the Ministry of Defence by a private company, AWE-ML, a consortium of Lockheed Martin, BNFL and Serco, floods disabled key radiation alarm systems.

Parts of the factory came “within 2 to 3 hours” of being overwhelmed and this could have led to the release of potentially radioactive contaminated water and of a radioactive cloud that would require the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from the surrounding area.

AWE floods 07

According to documents released to the Nuclear Information Service under the Freedom of Information Act, most of the buildings in the key nuclear assembly area were inundated. Serious management problems at AWE were revealed: staff struggled to contact senior managers as the waters rose and those who attempted to defend buildings were overcome by the volume of water. Radioactive material was still being recovered from one building nearly three weeks after the flood.

Failure rewarded

After previous floods at Burghfield in 1999 and 2000, a programme of nine separate flood remediation measures had been ordered. Seven years later, none had been completed. On three, no action had been taken, two had dropped off the radar, listed as “status unknown” and the remaining four are described as “partially implemented”.

No heads rolled.

Secret state: ministers and companies

  • No site emergency was declared in spite of the severity of the flood, and the Environment Agency’s Nuclear Regulation Group was not told of the extent of the flood damage for 48 hours.
  • Defence ministers told MPs there had been only “minor disruption”, though all live nuclear work on warheads stopped for nine months.
  • Details of the extent of the flooding were kept from the public and local authorities: the documents noting that “it was a prudent step to limit disclosure of information surrounding the degree of impact suffered – particularly at Burghfield.”

Can this political corporate alliance, which has withheld such information from the public, the regulatory authority, local government and more junior members of parliament, be trusted to run such dangerous installations?