Compromising nuclear warhead safety in Britain

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Aerial view of 'Gravel Gerties' at AWE Burghfield

A report published today by Nuclear Information Service (NIS) questions the safety of ageing nuclear warhead assembly and disassembly facilities at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Burghfield, near Reading in Berkshire.

The report (available to download at the bottom of the page) examines Health & Safety Executive Nuclear Installation Inspectorate (NII) Quarterly Reports for the AWE facility over the last 18 months and concludes that the Burghfield warhead assembly / disassembly facility is no longer able to operate safely.  NIS questions how AWE can be permitted to continue to operate the 50-year-old plant when the NII is continually concerned about safety issues at the site.  However, the Minsitry of Defence faces the dilemma that the Burghfield facility is the only location able to undetake servicing and maintenance work of the UK's arsenal of Trident warheads.

AWE Burghfield is situated some five miles from AWE Aldermaston where nuclear warheads are produced. Warheads are transported by road from the Aldermaston site to AWE Burghfield where the final assembly of high explosives into warheads takes place before they are transported to the operational store at the Royal Armaments Depot in Scotland.

Commenting on the report, NIS Executive Director Di McDonald said: “The seriousness of the problems at Burghfield became clear when the first 2007 NII Quarterly Report said NII had set up a new monthly meeting in addition to the normal regulatory process in order to lay an audit trail of AWE’s compliance with NII requirements.”

“The dilemma for the MOD is, how can it reduce warhead numbers or service warheads if the Burghfield site is closed for safety reasons?”