Confidence in safety at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) is at ‘crisis’ point after it was revealed this week that two of its sites have been put into special measures again.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has placed Aldermaston, the warhead factory for Britain’s Trident submarines, into special measures for the fifth year running, while Burghfield, which maintains nuclear warheads, was placed under the same conditions for the second consecutive year.
Areas for improvement cited by the newly-published ONR report include ‘leadership and management for safety’.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said the report raised questions about the Government’s ability to ‘keep us safe’.
Its chairman Dave Webb said: “Yet again we see that AWE has failed to meet the expected safety standards at the nuclear bomb factory in Aldermaston and another AWE site at Burghfield.
“As more and more of these safety issues come up, what’s emerging is a crisis in public confidence in the Government’s ability to keep us safe.”
The Nuclear Information Service, a not-for-profit independent information service on the nuclear industry, said the Government needed to ‘get a grip’.
NIS research manager David Cullen said: “AWE Aldermaston was supposed to only be in special measures for two years, and it is now going to be in them for half a decade.
“Something has gone seriously wrong when over half the enforcement measures used by ONR in the last year were targeted at AWE.
“The MoD need to get a grip. If the current management can’t properly prioritise safety, then they need to be replaced with someone who can.”
The ONR report states that both Aldermaston and Burghfield ‘remain subject to enhanced levels of regulatory attention’.
It acknowledges that there have been ‘some notable achievements’ in regards to addressing the ‘long term safe management of radioactive waste’ at Aldermaston, with an improvement notice for that removed.
But the report found ‘a number of non-compliance issues against Nuclear Site Licence Conditions’ at both sites that needed to be addressed, ‘ensuring sustained legal compliance and that risks are controlled to as low as reasonably practical’.
Paul Rees, head of environment, safety and health at AWE, said they would be co-operating with the ONR to address its shortcomings.
He said: “We acknowledge that there is still work to do and aim to continuously improve on all aspects of our leadership and management, operations and processes.
“The report recognises that good progress has been made towards a long-term strategy for managing our Higher Activity Waste (HAW).”
Mr Rees added: “Delivering safe and secure operations remains the core priority for AWE.
“We welcome the independent scrutiny and monitoring our regulators provide, and will continue to work closely with the ONR in maintaining our safety standards.
“A key focus for AWE continues to be the replacement of ageing infrastructure on both Aldermaston and Burghfield sites to support our crucial role in national defence. AWE remains under a high level of regulatory scrutiny while we continue to use current facilities.
“AWE will also continue to collaborate with the ONR and the other regulators to strengthen dialogue and understanding and to ensure we deliver on our regulatory responsibilities.”
The Unite union, which represents the majority of AWE workers and is currently in dispute with the management over pension provision, declined to comment on the ONR report.