Sunday, 2 November 2008


Thanks to NAG for this update, highlighting the dangers of flooding at the nuclear bomb factory a few miles from Reading, at Aldermaston.

I am indebted to the Nuclear Information Service for digging out, by patient research of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, a fuller picture of what really happened in July of last year at AWE Burghfield. We were aware that the flooding had been serious, and have reported on this in past newsletters, but what is now revealed is far worse than the public have been led to believe.

By mid-afternoon on Friday July 20^th , 2007, flood water had reached the warhead assembly area and the explosives handling area. Water levels had reached over two ft, completely marooning one facility. The power supply, including the supply to the warhead assembly area and eventually to the whole site, had to be switched off. The criticality alarm system then became dysfunctional (and remained so for two weeks). By sheer good luck, it was Friday afternoon, and radioactive materials which could have reached criticality on contact with water had been stored away for the weekend. It was that close, and no functioning alarm. It must have been a terrifying ordeal for the workers still on site.

It took two weeks to recover radioactive materials from flooded buildings. A lot of documents were lost.

The 2007 episode was not the first one of flooding at Burghfield. The site was known to be flood-prone, yet AWE still has not put flood management measures in place. It has chosen to put their resources into new office accommodation, a restaurant and fancy equipment ahead of the safety of their workers and the public.

The response of AWE Management to the flooding was to keep as low a profile as possible. A site emergency was not declared. The Government Regulators responsible were not alerted until after the weekend. West Berks. Council Emergency team were not disturbed from their weekend rest (nor were they included in the Learning the Lessons exercise afterwards). The Local Liaison Committee was not told the scale of the problem (and didn’t ask). The public were not offered any information.

Since the floods, West Berks Planning Committee has granted planning permission for a new manufacturing facility at AWE Burghfield. NAG responded to this application drawing the Committee’s attention to the need for flood prevention measures to be in place before any new build was authorised. Perhaps the Committee would not have ignored us if what is known now had been known then.

AWE’s internal review (“Review, Learn and Improve Assessment”, November 2007) obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, (with much crossings-out), reveals that risk assessments for both the Aldermaston and Burghfield sites had overlooked flooding as a threat, although there had been previous incidents at both sites.

It is difficult to agree with AWE’s conclusion that “at no point during the flood and its aftermath was there any threat to the nuclear safety at Aldermaston or Burghfield”. We were all lucky this time that it was a Friday afternoon.

This is just not good enough. Nuclear weapons sites should be capable of withstanding attacks by enemies and terrorists, but these seem to have been unable to resist the rain.

What hope for a radioactive waste depository which would need to store waste safely for millennia if safety is regarded as such a low priority?

NAG next meeting
TUESDAY 16th December 2008
7pm AGM – Hot fruit punch & mince pies
7.30 - Safety at AWE Civic Centre Reading

Nuclear Safety at AWE
A talk on safety and regulation
David Senior HM Superintending Inspector (Nuclear Installations)* has information on last weeks blockade, 27 October 2008.

Related sites:
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)
Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp(aign)
Nuclear Information Service
Scottish CND
Faslane 365
NukeWatch UK
Block the Builders
Nuclear Awareness Group
AWE’s corporate website

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