Council accused of ‘sneaking through’ nuclear plans during Christmas rush

Nuclear Information Service has raised concerns that a planning application for a controversial new development handling nuclear materials at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston is being pushed through on the quiet during the busy run-up period before Christmas.

The planning application for 'Project Pegasus' – the proposed new enriched uranium facility at AWE Aldermaston – was validated by the Council on 30th November 2008, and a mere three weeks has been allowed for the consultation period, which closes on 23rd December.

The Nuclear Information Service has written to West Berkshire Council requesting an extension to the public consultation period for the planning application.

The proposed development is a major industrial plant handling enriched uranium – a radioactive substance which is able to spontaneously combust in a finely divided form – and other hazardous chemicals.  The safety and environmental risks associated with the new plant are significant, and NIS considers it important that a decision on the application is not rushed and that plenty of time is available to investigate these concerns.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Ministry of Defence has allowed a contingency period of two years for obtaining planning approval for Project Pegasus, and so there is no need for the planning application to be rushed through.

Peter Burt, Director of Nuclear Information Service, said: “Consulting on a complicated and controversial planning application like this over the Christmas period is not acceptable, and I am afraid it shows that the Ministry of Defence and West Berkshire Council are trying to avoid public debate on an expensive and unnecessary new development at AWE Aldermaston.

“There are over 60 highly technical documents about the enriched uranium facility on the West Berkshire planning application website, and it is laughable to think that even the most concerned local person has the time to wade through all these and then write a letter to the council at Christmas – a time when everyone has better things to do.

“There is a massive contrast between consultation over the government's plans to build new nuclear power stations and the lack of discussion over developments at AWE Aldermaston.  The planning process for the new nuclear power stations is lasting for around eighteen months and will be dealt with at the national level, yet plans for Berkshire’s nuclear weapons factory are being sneaked through on the quiet by a local planning committee meeting in a village hall.

“We think it is important that everyone who wants to has the opportunity to comment on this important application – whether they are for it or against it – and so we are calling for the deadline for consultation on the Project Pegasus planning application to be extended until the end of January.”

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