Nuclear emergency exercise is a good start - but real-life test needed for bomb factory

An emergency exercise for the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) has resulted in invaluable learning for emergency services – but further improvements in planning for an accident are needed as a result of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, according to a new report from Nuclear Information Service (NIS).

NIS has published an independent monitoring report for the 'Aldex 10' emergency exercise which was organised last November by West Berkshire Council, to co-incide with publication of the Council's own report on the exercise.

West Berkshire's report, endorsed by the Health and Safety Executive, concludes that the exercise was a satisfactory test of emergency arrangements for the AWE Aldermaston site.  NIS agrees that the exercise went well – but is calling for future multi-agency exercises for the site to be real-life tests rather than office-based command and control exercises.

Aldex 10 took place on 10 November 2010 and involved around 250 staff from a wide variety of government agencies that would be involved in tackling a nuclear emergency at AWE Aldermaston.  The exercise tested communication and command arrangements for dealing with a mock release of radiation from AWE Aldermaston which drifted over the urban area around Tadley.

NIS fielded a team of volunteer observers in the Aldermaston area to discuss emergency planning arrangements for AWE Aldermaston with local people, businesses, and schools whilst council planners and emergency services discussed how to tackle the incident and prepare a media response.

However, since the exercise took place the Fukushima nuclear emergency in Japan has highlighted limitations in emergency planning for nuclear sites.  NIS is calling for the Health and Safety Executive to review nuclear emergency arrangements and is calling for the law to be changed to require live exercises to take place more frequently at nuclear sites to help guarantee the safety of the public.

Nuclear Information Service Director Peter Burt said:

“There's no doubt that the Aldex exercise was an invaluable learning experience for everyone involved, and we are very pleased that West Berkshire Council has decided to publish its report on the lessons learnt from the exercise.

“However, since the exercise took place the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan has shown that accidents can happen, and has raised new questions about whether current emergency planning arrangements are adequate to deal with a nuclear accident.

“We think that nuclear safety arrangements need to be tightened up in the light of Fukushima, and that real-life rehearsals of nuclear emergency plans for AWE and other nuclear sites should take place on a regular basis”.