Friday, 2 April 2010

Safety Concerns Sparked By Mensa Leaks At AWE

The Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston has come under renewed scrutiny after it emerged construction work at the site in preparation for the new nuclear warhead assembly facility, Project Mensa, had caused pollution in Burghfield Brook.

The Environment Agency has sent a warning letter to AWE after a discharge raised concerns of lasting damage.

EA spokesperson Hayley Willoughby commented that "we will be working with AWE to ensure this does not happen again."

She added:
"minor incidents so early on in AWE's programme of construction activities may warn of a more significant pollution incident to come as construction activities expand at both Burghfield and Aldermaston over the next few years."
Nuclear Awareness Group director Peter Burt explains how the leaks reminded him "of the bad old days back in the 1970s and 1980s when AWE's safety and environmental record was unimaginably worse than it is now" as "AWE was a law unto itself and health and safety was very much an afterthought to the manufacturing and research work that took place at the Establishment."

He points out that it was only after increased pressure from campaigners that the Local Liason Committee (LLC) was set up that the situation improved and residents were given a means to engage in the planning process to protect them from disaster.

Peppard ward's Cllr Richard Willis is a member of the LLC and he reports on the most recent meeting he attended when a question session with the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate highlighted a range of concerns at the plant, including 'elevated levels of Gamma radiation' on the banks of the Thames at Pangbourne and Mapledurham.

In addition a report was given on enabling the 1,000 construction workers for the new Project Pegasus building easier access to the site, while it was announced that a planning submission for the new 14,000 sq m Hydrus hydro-dynamics building would be made during May.

Finally parish councillors recieved a response that assessment of prospects for the use of the site as a long-term store for nuclear waste is still ongoing.

Reading's LibDem environmental spokesperson Cllr Glenn Goodall expresses his concern that the leaks from construction at the site broke the Water Resources Act, as just one instance of over 4,000 incidents arising from Britain's AWE establishments which are made every year.

He adds that despite the existence of the LLC neighbouring authorities are often kept largely 'in the dark' about what actually happens at the sites.

Meanwhile LibDem parliamentary candidate for Reading East, Cllr Gareth Epps added,
"With a significant number of residents in Katesgrove, Reading town centre and Newtown living by the Kennet, it is in the public interest that attention and scrutiny is paid to the environmental impacts of AWE."

Oranjepan says:
Unless you know what's going on and are fully involved in the processes there is little you can do to prepare for or mitigate the worst that can happen.

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More stories about AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield

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