Aldermaston and Devonport to remain in ‘special measures’

Devonport from the air

The Chief Nuclear Inspector’s 2023 annual report has revealed that AWE Aldermaston and the Devonport Royal Dockyard (DRDL) are to remain under enhanced regulatory attention. Aldermaston has been under enhanced attention since 2013 and Devonport since 2014.

Of the three categories of regulatory attention used by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), enhanced is the second highest. The highest category is used only for the four most hazardous facilities at Sellafield. ONR said that for both sites the decision for them to remain in this category was due to “longstanding issues”.

The issues in the case of Aldermaston relate to “control of work, capability and capacity [that] have not been adequately addressed”, but the report also mentions the prohibition notice issued in May 2022 to protect workers from nitrogen asphyxiation in the A90 plutonium facility. The report covers events during the financial year 2022/23, but it also notes the death of a construction worker at Aldermaston in July that came after the reporting period.

In the case of Devonport, the issues relate to “leadership and organisational capability”. The ONR appear to have been sufficiently dissatisfied with the lack of progress at the site that they have independently raised the issues with DRDL’s parent company, Babcock International. The report states that this has resulted in “clear actions identified and attention given to the steps necessary to deliver the licensee to routine regulatory attention”. No timescale is given for when ONR expect this change to occur.

ONR highlight the appointment of Andy Scargill as Executive Director with responsibility for liabilities as a positive development at AWE, as well as the closure of a Level 1 regulatory issue related to “delivery, governance and assurance of safety and compliance outcome”. This issue related to efforts to bring the site into routine regulatory attention and was closed in the winter of 2022/23.

The report says that although Aldermaston is making improvements, moving to a level of routine regulatory attention will only be considered after a sustained period of improvement. It remains to be seen how the outcome of the police investigation and any subsequent investigations by ONR into the death in July will impact on this assessment.

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