Blog Archives

Additional confirmation of the Scottish government’s sensible nuclear policy . . .

 Withdrawal of safety awards to two nuclear weapons plants

nuclear running shoes

As says: “Not safe, misrepresented as solution to global warming, too expensive, waste disposal problems, vulnerable to terrorist attacks. When you add this to the current situation in Japan, is nuclear energy really a viable solution?”

Following a report in the latest newsletter from West Midlands CND, attention was drawn to Rob Edwards’ article about safety breaches at two of Britain’s nuclear establishments.

nuclear industries' safety awardIn 2011, 2012 and 2013, gold safety awards from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) were presented to AWE, a private consortium which operates nuclear weapons facilities at Aldermaston (left) and Burghfield in Berkshire for the Ministry of Defence.

Following a £200,000 fine imposed in 2013 for breaching safety rules during a fire at an explosives plant that injured a worker, the 2011 award was downgraded to a bronze award and the awards for 2012 and 2013 were withdrawn completely. No photos of the Aldermaston fire are available, due no doubt for reputational and security reasons, but several of the fire engines called in.

The government’s safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), is considering legal enforcement action against AWE over two recent incidents in which building fire detection systems were found to be defective. One detector at a medium-level radioactive facility had been out of action for “an extended period”.

awe logoThough AWE pleaded guilty at Reading Crown Court on 16 May 2013 to failing to ensure the safety of its employees in breach of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, problems with fire safety persisted. In February, AWE discovered and reported to the ONR two incidents involving faulty fire alarms in facilities holding radioactive material.

In an earlier article Rob Edwards recorded that – in response to inquiries – AWE admitted that there had been as many as 50 ‘minor’ fires at Aldermaston over two years.

nuclear aldermaston plantPete Wilkinson, director of Nuclear Information Service in Reading, pointed out that ONR was now giving AWE enhanced regulatory attention.

“Nuclear safety at the factory can hardly be said to meet gold star standards,” he said.

“AWE’s recent record on fire safety is not good and despite claims by the company that improvements have been made since the 2010 fire at Aldermaston, there are obviously still problems at the site. The issues over safety management at AWE sites also raise questions about the competence of AWE to control the establishment”.

Read Edward’s full article:

And his latest: EDF Energy applying for new authorisations to allow radioactive waste to be transported by road between its two nuclear power stations at Hunterston in North Ayrshire and Torness in East Lothian.

See Roundtree7’s powerful short video:

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?