The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) has submitted a planning application to West Berkshire Council to extend the time limit for construction of a new conventional manufacturing rationalisation (CMR) facility at AWE Burghfield.
Planning permission for the facility was originally granted in August 2008, with building work scheduled to commence within three years. AWE has stated that construction of the new facility has not yet commenced because resources have had to be directed towards higher priority projects, and so a new application has been submitted to extend the time limit before planning permission expires.
The new CMR facility will bring together a number of precision manufacturing processes needed to manufacture the non-nuclear parts of a nuclear weapon, and will contain facilities for various metalworking processes, ceramics machining, and quality assurance and inspection – activities which are are essential in the construction and refurbishment of nuclear warheads. The facility will also be used to manufacture exact replicas of weapon components for use in research, development, and trials.
The new CMR facility is to be build towards the northern perimeter of the AWE Burghfield site, where a large construction enclave, separate from the existing process buildings, has been set up to create a construction area for 'Project Mensa', the new warhead assembly / disassembly facility at Burghfield, together with a number of associated new buildings.
A 'Defence Exemption Direction' was issued for the original planning application for the facility, meaning that key information about the processes which will be undertaken and their environmental impacts was exempt from disclosure to the local planning authority.
Peter Burt of the Nuclear Information Service said: "I would be concerned if the whole building programme at AWE Burghfield is slipping and if this is impacting on plans for building Project Mensa, the new warhead assembly / disassembly facility. The current warhead assembly / disassembly facility needs replacing urgently for safety reasons, and the Health and Safety Executive has told AWE that the new building must be open by 2016."
"Every time a planning application is presented to West Berkshire Council AWE says that it is an urgent matter and planning permission is needed straight away. It's difficult to trust what AWE tells us about planning applications for its sites when we find out that, despite being granted planning permission nearly three years ago for the CMR facility, AWE has made absolutely no progress at all in constructing it.
“There are good reasons for setting a time limit to planning applications, and planning permission would not normally be extended without a very good reason. West Berkshire Council must not grant AWE any special favours by extending the timescale for this application in a way that would not be allowed for any other applicant.
"Unfortunately West Berkshire's planning committee seems to accept everything AWE says without question, and well-founded concerns from local people who have objected to planning applications at AWE sites in the past have been completely ignored. I'm afraid I don't have much faith that the Council will consider this application very seriously.”
If you would like to comment on the planning application you can send your views to West Berkshire Council by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by letter to:
West Berkshire Council
Please quote the planning application reference number 11/00029/XCOMIN.