AWE Aldermaston emergency planning zone to remain unchanged

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Council emergency planners have decided to retain the current 3 kilometre emergency planning zone surrounding the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston – despite a review by AWE which concluded that the radius of the zone could be reduced slightly.

A technical review conducted last year by AWE staff as part of a three-yearly review required by the Radiation (Emergency Planning and Public Information) Regulations 2001 (REPPIR) has calculated that the detailed emergency planning zone for AWE Aldermaston – within which members of the public must be advised on precautions to take in the event of a release of radioactive material from the site – could be reduced to “somewhat less” that the current 3 kilometre radius.

However, following discussion with members of the AWE Offsite Emergency Plan Group, which represents the emergency services and other agencies which would be involved in responding to an emergency at AWE, West Berkshire Council – responsible for preparing the offsite emergency plan for AWE sites - has decided that the size of the emergency planning zone should remain unchanged.   Emergency responders were concerned that changing the size of the zone would have “a number of practical impacts” on their ability to implement the plan arrangements.

AWE’s argument for a reduction in the radius of the zone was based around the use of more refined analysis methods than previously, and, according to the company, also reflects “the ongoing hazard and risk reduction programme on the Aldermaston site”.  Assessors from the government's Office for Nuclear Regulation agreed with AWE's conclusions.

The sizing of the zone will remain under review pending any changes to government guidance in the light of the Fukushima emergency, or the outcome of AWE’s next routine REPPIR assessment.

The radius of the AWE Burghfield emergency planning zone will also remain unchanged.

REPPIR states that the radius of the detailed emergency planning zone should be calculated on the basis of the distance from potentially hazardous buildings within a nuclear site at which the public would receive a 5mSv radiation dose in the event of a radiation emergency.

Government policy on nuclear emergency planning is currently under review following the Fukushima emergency, and local authorities responsible for emergency planning at other nuclear sites are taking a more precautionary approach to accident risks while policy is being developed.  Suffolk County Council is currently undertaking a three month public consultation on its emergency plan for the Sizewell nuclear power station, which proposed that the radius of the emergency planning zone should be extended by 1.6km, from the current 2.4km to 4km.

Independent nuclear consulting engineers Large & Associates, working on behalf of Nuclear Information Service, have presented evidence to show that REPPIR emergency planning arrangements for AWE sites compare unfavourably with the area contaminated by radioactivity following the Fukushima disaster.

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