AWE Aldermaston in special measures for the 5th year running

Sign at AWE Aldermaston West Gate

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has announced in their annual report that both Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites continue to be subject to an enhanced level of regulatory attention.

This will be the fifth year running that AWE Aldermaston has been under enhanced regulation. When the enhanced regulation was first announced in 2013 ONR predicted it would only last for two years.  

AWE Burghfield remains under enhanced regulation for the second consecutive year. Of the thirty-six nuclear licensed sites in the UK, only six sites are subject to enhanced regulatory attention, including the two AWE sites and the Devonport submarine re-fit facilities in Plymouth.

In previous years ONR have specifically cited slow progress in the process of constructing new buildings at the AWE sites as the reason that enhanced regulation was required, due to to a continued reliance on aging facilities. In their 2016/17 annual report ONR do not discuss the construction programme at AWE. They state that there has been progress in addressing legacy issues at one of the sites, but they also highlight the non-compliance issues at the AWE sites that have been subject to regulatory enforcement in 2016/17.

Of the eight instances of formal enforcement measures that were in effect throughout the UK in 2016/17, five were directed at AWE. These formal enforcement measures are reserved for when nuclear inspections are categorised ‘red’ because licensees “failed to meet the safety and security expectations required by law”. Enforcement measures at AWE related to their failure to produce a plan for dealing with  holdings of Higher Activity Waste and failures to properly manage changes to safety documentation.

The news comes as it emerged that the MoD have refused to release forecasts of future spending on rebuilding and upgrading facilities at Aldermaston and Burghfield when responding to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the BBC. However, estimates have been released in response to FOI requests in the past. A comparison of actual spending against previous forecasts show that capital spending was £446 million lower than forecast over the four years from 2012 to 2013. This would be consistent with delays in the building programme, if it meant spending on building work had to be deferred because of slow progress.

Update: On the 25th September, in answer to a parliamentary question in the House of Lords, the Government confirmed that "The ONR's decision to place the AWE Aldermaston site under enhanced regulatory attention was due to issues relating principally to ageing facilities".