Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Fire At AWE Bomb Factory

Last night there was a fire at Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE). The blaze forced the evacuation of the base and local residents as authorities sealed the area off as a “precaution”.
All roads for four miles around the top-secret base were sealed off today as firefighters remained at the base damping down the building. (Update, the four mile figure was taked from the Daily Mail, and was not correct).

'The fire is thought to have occurred in the explosives area of the Aldermaston site, where there is a risk that a 'domino effect' of explosives igniting each other can lead to a rapid spread of fire.

'It raises questions about regulatory standards at AWE, where a number of operations are not regulated by the Health and Safety Executive but are instead controlled by the Ministry of Defence itself through a secretive process of internal regulation'.

Peter Burt, Director of the Reading-based NIS added: 'The incident was serious enough for the fire service to be called out, local residents to be evacuated and local roads cordoned off.

'It seems that we came within a hair's breadth of everyone's nightmare scenario.

'AWE handles radioactive materials, explosives, and hazardous chemicals and despite extensive safety precautions on the site, this incident shows that accidents can and do happen.

'There is no room for complacency and last night's accident is a reminder that AWE poses considerable risks to local communities.

'We wish to see a full independent inquiry held to investigate this incident as soon as possible. The results of the inquiry must be made public so that local people can see that lessons have been learned and that their safety is AWE's number one priority'

In May the Defence Environment and Safety Board, the Ministry of Defence's top-level body charged with overseeing the safety of all military activities highlighted the MoD's poor safety record and warned that planned cuts in defence spending will “test safety management” and add to existing pressures on safety.

On the 20th July 2007 AWE flooding came close to overwhelming the site, resulting in a ‘near miss’ event and causing long-term disruption to nuclear weapons manufacture. Executives at the Atomic Weapons Establishment covered up the true scale of the flooding, which resulted in live nuclear work being suspended for nine months.

An investigation has been launched into what sparked the blaze at the AWE in Aldermaston, Berkshire, which maintains the warheads for the UK's Trident nuclear deterrent.

One staff member suffered minor injuries during the fire at the atomic weapons base, which started around 9pm on Tuesday night.

Authorities said the fire, which broke out in the “non-nuclear explosives area” of the base, had “no radiological implications”.

Ministry of Defence sources described the fire at the base, where Britain’s nuclear warheads are designed, built and maintained, as “minor”.

At least six fire appliances were sent to the blaze. It remains unclear what sparked it.

A spokeswoman for the base said: “At around 9pm on Tuesday 3 August, a fire broke out in a building within the conventional non-nuclear explosives area of AWE Aldermaston. AWE’s fire and rescue service were quickly on the scene and were supported by Royal Berkshire fire fighters. One member of AWE staff received minor injuries in the incident and was treated… on the site.”

She added: “As a precautionary measure, a 600 metre cordon was set up around the building and a small number of local residents were evacuated overnight from their homes in the Red Lane area. A full investigation in the causes of the incident, which has no radiological implications, will be undertaken.”

She said the MoD and the base’s regulators had been informed. An MoD spokeswoman said it was aware of the fire but referred inquiries to the AWE statement.

In December ministers sold off the Government's last remaining one-third ownership to a Californian engineering company.

In the USA President Obama has forced multinational oil company BP to pay for the mistakes it has made over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but here in the UK the Ministry of Defence is quite happy for hard working taxpayers to pay. AWE is a consortium of some of the richest military contractors in the world, why should we pay so that the company doesn't lose money over the damage caused during the floods or fire?

Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail, NIS, AWE, Newbury Today, BBC, Independent


Adrian Windisch said...

Ed said...

Not sure about roads being closed for 4 miles around. I heard something about a 600m exclusion zone and I work within a stones throw of the AWE main gate (outside of it, for the avoidance of doubt) and the road to my office wasn't closed. Busy yes, closed no.


Adrian Windisch said...

Cheers Ed. The 600 m exclusion zone is mentioned. The 4 mile roadblock bit was copied from the media, sorry if that was wrong.

AWE is big, perhaps the roadblock was in the bit opposite to you, in the North?

NickJ said...

Given that there was no radiation threat from the fire, do you not feel that the use of a photo showing a nuclear disarmament poster and the numerous references to nuclear accidents are a somewhat overly sensational or alarmist journalistic technique, perhaps more at home in the paper whose inaccurate coverage you are also quoting?

Adrian Windisch said...

Hi Nick, just because AWE say there was no threat does not make it true. A full public enquiry would find out.

If you read the post you would find a refence to a 'nightmare scenario' quoted from NIS. A fire in an area full of explosives could easily have spread to other areas.

You claim I refer to other nuclear accidents. I could mention many many more.

In 2007 a flood stopped operations for 9 months, but this was only revealed by FOI requests as is also stated in the blog. There safety record is poor.

Perhaps you are not concerned with the threat to residents in nearby towns, but I live in Reading and I am.

NickJ said...

As a fellow Reading resident, I am also concerned, however I do not share your inherent mistrust of everything which the authorities tell me.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be worried about accidents - of any severity - I was more questioning your journalistic style, using provocative, sensationalist language and listing various incidents before saying there wasn't actually a radiation risk. As I remarked, you evidently look to the tabloid press for more than just their inaccurate research skills.

Anyway, an HSE enquiry has been launched, the results of which you will no doubt dismiss.

Adrian Windisch said...

Talk about prejudice, you have decided what I will say before any enquiry has even started.

I have pointed out already that they covered up the 2007 flood for 3 years. Yet this does not seem to concern you at all.

Again you say there was no radiation risk, I await the enquiry to learn if this is true. If AWE say something, I have learned to treat it with suspicion.

NickJ said...

No PREjudice, Adrian - your post and comments make repeated reference to your doubts over what they publish, my remark was based on this.

As an aside, the report will not be from AWE from the HSE. How do they stand in your trust levels?

As previously stated, my concern was not with the incident but your sensationalist tabloid-style reporting. I expected more from a parliamentary candidate.

Adrian Windisch said...

You said 'an HSE enquiry has been launched, the results of which you will no doubt dismiss.'
I said that was prejudice.

You responded 'As an aside, the report will not be from AWE from the HSE.' which I already knew from your previous point.

I want an independent enquiry. I will await there result with interest.

The HSE have a good reputation but are underfunded. In 2008 they lost around 17% of the staff it had in 2002.

My original post said 'In May the Defence Environment and Safety Board, the Ministry of Defence's top-level body charged with overseeing the safety of all military activities highlighted the MoD's poor safety record and warned that planned cuts in defence spending will “test safety management” and add to existing pressures on safety.'

So I am not the only one concerned.

NickJ said...

Adrian, you are totally ignoring my comments (about your journalistic style), and instead just repeating the points you wish to make(about AWE safety). Maybe you will make a good MP after all.

Adrian Windisch said...

You keep ignoring what I have said. But thanks, yes I would make a good MP.

Your attacks on my 'journalistic style' are a bit silly, I am not a journalist.

This is a blog, blogs are full of opinions. If you dont want to read my opinion, then why read my blog?

NickJ said...

Sarcasm is totally lost on you I see.

I wasn't totally ignoring you what you said, although I do still maintain that you were doing this to me. My initial comment, and the bulk of all subsequent ones, have been about your writing style (important whether a journalist or a blogger, in my opinion) and not the HSE or AWE as your "replies" have all focussed on. Hence my remarks that you ignore the views of your constituents and just pursue your chosen topic.

As for why I read your blog, I subscribe to all blogs/Twitter/etc for all parliamentary candidates in my constituency as I feel this gives me a clearer view of them as people, not just their parties. This particular exchange has been most useful in that.

Adrian Windisch said...

I am not at present a candidate, so your a bit premature. Though you have already said you think I will be a good MP. Cheers.

I answered all your questions, mostly by pointing to where I had already answered them in the post.

As to my writing style, everyone has a diffferent one. If you read my blog regularly you will see I like to quote for a news story (giving links for my sources), then comment on it. Unlike many blogs of websites, I respond to comments, and on rare occasions where a mistake is made, I admit it. And when I disagree with somone, I explain why, but giving a quote from them.

I think these are all good attributes of an MP or Cllr. Unfortunatley its all too rare.