Environment Agency probes AWE on future of the Pangbourne Pipeline

The Environment Agency has met with the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) to discuss decommissioning of the Pangbourne Pipeline, formerly used for the disposal of radioactive effluent from the AWE Aldermaston site.

The 18 kilometer pipeline runs from AWE Aldermaston to the River Thames near Pangbourne and was used for the disposal of radioactive effluent from Aldermaston from the 1950s onwards.  It was closed in March 2005 and is no longer in use, pending a decision on future decommissioning options.

Members of the AWE Local Liaison Committee were briefed on the discussions with the Environment Agency at the Committee's September meeting, and told that options for management and removal of the pipeline have been produced by AWE.

Three basic options have been identified for the future management of the pipeline: leaving it in situ indefinitely (which would require a permit from the Environment Agency), full removal, which is believed to be the Environment Agency's preferred option, and partial removal of accessible sections, leaving sections which pass under major roads, railways, and other less accessible locations in situ.  Trials on pipeline removal have already been conducted by AWE on sections of the pipeline which pass through the AWE site, but the Environment Agency has asked AWE to provide detailed information on the different options and a Best Available Technique assessment to support long-term planning on the pipeline's future.

Removal of the pipeline is considered to be a low priority within AWE's decomissioning programme, as it has been assessed as posing a low hazard to the public.  The dormant pipeline is regularly monitored to assess its condition and environmental impact and ensure that any risks posed remain low.

At the moment no funding has been allocated by the Ministry of Defence to decommission the pipeline and according to current timetables the pipeline is not likely to be removed before AWE's 2026 – 32 programme period, after a new contract for management of the site has been negotiated.

AWE is proposing to set up a stakeholder group to advise on public engagement before decommissioning starts, with members drawn from local authorities and among landowners along the pipeline route.  As yet no commitment has been given to include representatives from local community or environmental groups with an interest in the pipeline on the stakeholder group.

The National Decommissioning Authority has already taken steps to remediate a similar pipeline in Oxfordshire which was used for the disposal of effluent from the Harwell civil nuclear site into the River Thames, and has arranged for sections of the pipeline to be removed.

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