AWE Planning Application for a High Explosives Fabrication Facility

West Berkshire Council (WBC) Planning Authority 

Planning Application: 07/02438/COMIND

High Explosives Fabrication Facility (HEFF)

Overall Objection 6th December 2007 

This AWE application to West Berkshire Council (WBC) is one in a series of applications in the AWE Strategic Development Plan. It is the first plan where much of the detail is withheld for national security reasons. This is also the first application that deals with high explosives on a nuclear licensed site. Since Crown Immunity was lifted, WBC is in the position of approving, rather than merely ‘not objecting to’ AWE applications.

National Security

WBC is asked to consult and approve plans for a building of acknowledged serious hazard, with insufficient information. Exemption Certificate(s) do not resolve the problem. However, the government anticipated this situation by recognizing that LPAs might have difficulty and made provision for refusal or non-determination in the Special Arrangements and Exemptions Relating to MOD Development,Chapter 3 of the Planning and Development in the UK v.1.0 March 2007:

‘[T]he MOD may be prevented on national security grounds from disclosing some of the details of the development. This may lead to the LPA deciding that it lacks the information necessary to make an informed determination such that it either has to refuse the application or fail to determine it.’

‘In appealing against a refusal or non-determination in such cases, MOD can request that the SoS DCLG (or devolved administration) gives a Section 321 Direction under the TCPA (in Scotland, a Section 265A Direction under the TCP(S)A). This will have the effect of restricting the hearing or examination of sensitive evidence to particular individuals because it would not be in the national interest for such evidence to be disclosed to the general public.’

National Security 0322/3

DCLG Circular 02/2006

Environmental Impact Assessment

The AWE equivalent non-statutory Environmental Appraisal is similarly hampered by limited information regarding the nature and magnitude of the environmental impact and risk from the proposed HEFF. The published EA information is insufficient to describe the risk to be assessed. Again, legislation anticipates the problem and makes provision for a LPA to report that insufficient information is available for it or its consultees to make a judgement, whereupon the Minister of Defence will step in.

‘If it is not reasonably practicable to undertake certain stages of the EIA (e.g. consultation due to the classified nature of the information) then Ministerial clearance of any alternative approach must be sought.’

National Security 0328

DCLG Circular 02/2006


AWE is a nuclear licensed site regulated by the HSE Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII). Information withheld from WBC is available to the NII and will form the basis of its decision on the safety of the HEFF design. The NII can require AWE to redesign the building, change its location or reduce the quantity of explosives throughput. According to the NII, it has not yet approved the HEFF design and is due to report to AWE in the New Year 2008. Should WBC approve a plan that was later rejected or substantially altered by the NII, the council would lay itself open to legal challenge.

 Detailed Objection

1. MoD Exemption Certificates

The Exemption to disclosure of documents on grounds of national security leaves insufficient information available to the LPA on which to make a decision and for consultees to comment.

2. Environmental Impact Assessment

Insufficient information is available on which to assess the non-statutory Environmental Assessment provided by AWE.

3. The Strategic Site Plan and Local Plan

WBC has not assessed the AWE Strategic Site Plans (2002/2003/2005) as a whole as required by the Local Plan. Many questions concerning the total impact and risks in the site developments remain unanswered. WBC has worked hard to treat AWE as any other applicant, but now that national security issues have appeared on the face of the application, it is time to deal with the reality of this ‘special case’ site and declare the legitimate limitations of a local authority.

4.Off-site Safety

In the event of an accident, the recognised MoD safety distance for HE explosive fragments is 600 metres in its REPPIR HE/nuclear safety regulations. This radius appears to reach outside the AWE fence on the eastern side of the site. The HEFF should on no account be sited so close to the public road and local housing.

 5. On-site Safety

In the event of an accident, explosive fragments could fall around the site, particularly within a 600 metre zone. A serious health and safety risk would be created by the planned proximity of the HEFF to existing high risk buildings and others yet to be built:

Explosives store

Nuclear waste stores

Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium stores

Tritium recovery plant and store

Warhead manufacturing complex

(The NII may alter the design and position of the building on these grounds in its HEFF report to AWE in 2008).

6. Overall Safety and ALARP Policy

Nuclear and HE risk is balanced against the As Low As Reasonably Possible (ALARP) test. However, to fulfil this criterion, the HEFF should not be sited at Aldermaston but well away from nuclear production and storage facilities. Historically, the MoD was guided by ALARP and HE operations were split between the two AWE (A) and (B) sites. More recently, the proposal to move the Burghfield HE and warhead assembly operations to Aldermaston was scrapped on publicly acceptable safety grounds. These grounds remain sound; any amalgamation of operations should not result in a greater risk at either site. A third site option is needed, for example MoD Blacknest.


The council has insufficient information on which to determine the application. This situation was bound to arise when AWE made an application subject to the withholding of information on national security grounds. Government anticipated that in these circumstances a local authority will on occasion refuse an application and provided a legal procedure for non-determination or refusal. WBC is bound to weigh in the balance the three issues of safety, legal consultation and inadequate information on which to determine a decision.

NIS is not satisfied that enough information is available in the Building plan or the AWE Environmental Appraisal on which it can make a full assessment as a consultee.

Di McDonald

Nuclear Information Service (NIS)

30 Westwood Road

Southampton SO17 1DN

02380 554434


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