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
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