MOD Stops Live Nuclear Work at AWE Due to NII Preasure Over Safety Risks

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The MOD has stopped live nuclear work being carried out at the assembly/disassembly plant at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Burghfield, due to pressure from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate(NII), until safety standards are improved. The October to December 2007 NII Quarterly report on AWE finds some improvements in safety at the Aldermaston and nearby Burghfield site, but some serious problems remain.The NII is not satisfied that the risk of an accident is ‘As Low As Reasonably Practicable' (ALARP) in a quarter of the inspection targets, including the aging ‘gravel gertie' dis/assembly facilities where Fissile and High Explosive components are combined in Trident warheads.

Following a damning report listing 1000 safety shortfalls at AWE in 2006/7, NII set a deadline of September 27th 2007 for improvements to be completed. Yet serious faults with the structure of the dis/assembly buildings, warhead lifting cranes and other faults remain outstanding. In its September Periodic Review of Safety Process (PRS), the NII gave an interim decision requiring AWE to apply to NII for a new safety licence each time warhead handling operations were carried out in these facilities. But by December 31st, NII reports a final restriction that the warhead work must stop.

"Subsequently, progress on remediation work is being monitored, in particular those project shortfalls not completed by the PRS decision date. However, AWE has agreed that no live nuclear work will be carried out until the necessary ALARP fixes are in place."

 

NII 4th Quarterly Report on AWE. 2007.

Published 8th April 2008

15 Improvements needed

As fast as some shortfalls are resolved, others arise: 15 new problems are identified in routine inspections reported in the Quarterly Report. For example, 5 inspections of Safety Mechanisms, Devices and Circuits, show only 1 facility was considered to be adequate, 3 facilities had potential improvements identified, and an inspection of the corporate arrangements identified potential improvements. Similarly, 2 facilities under Warning Notices were inspected, where both identified potential improvements. While 42 safety inspections were considered adequate, only 2 were of "a good standard". This does not sit well with AWE's claim to be a high performing organisation. Advertising itself as ‘a centre of scientific and technological excellence, with some of the most advanced research, design and production facilities in the world', AWE fails to mention that the most dangerous part of their whole operation is closed down for inadequate safety levels.

Notes

NII 4th Quarterly Report on AW 2007 http://www.hse.gov.uk/nuclear/llc/2007/aldermaston4.htm

Routine Matters

Incidents on the site - 10 facility inspections were carried out, of which 9 were considered to be adequate, and 1 had potentially significant improvements identified.(1) An inspection of the corporate arrangements identified potential improvements.(2)

  • Modification or Experiment on existing plant - of 4 facility inspections, 3 were considered to be adequate, and 1 had potential improvements identified. (3)

  • Control and Supervision of Operations - a facility inspection was carried out and considered to be adequate.

  • Operating Rules - of 7 facility inspections carried out, 5 were considered to be adequate, 1 was considered to be of a good standard, and 1 had potential improvements identified.(4)

  • Operating Instructions - of 5 facility inspections carried out, 4 were considered to be adequate, and 1 was considered to be of a good standard.

  • Examination, Inspection, Maintenance and Testing - 4 facility inspections were all found to be adequate.

  • Commissioning - a facility inspection was carried out and considered to be adequate.

  • Warning Notices - 2 facility inspections were carried out, both identified potential improvements. (5,6)

  • Instructions to Persons on the Site - of the 2 facility inspections, 1 was considered to be adequate, and 1 had potential improvements identified.(7)

  • Emergency Arrangements - of the 4 facility inspections, 3 were considered to be adequate, and 1 had potential improvements identified.(8)

  • Periodic Review - of the 4 facility inspections, 3 were considered to be adequate, and 1 had potential improvements identified.(9)

  • Quality Assurance - of the 3 facilities inspected, 2 were considered to be adequate, and 1 had potential improvements identified. (10)

  • Safety Mechanisms, Devices and Circuits - of the 5 inspections carried out, 1 facility was considered to be adequate, 3 facilities had potential improvements identified, and an inspection of the corporate arrangements identified potential improvements.(11,12,13 14)

  • Ionising Radiations Regulations - of 7 inspections carried out, 5 facility inspections were considered to be adequate, 1 had potential improvements identified ,(15) and an inspection of the corporate arrangements was considered to be adequate.

Where potential improvements were identified, during the above inspections, these were brought to the attention of the licensee and these are now being actively pursued. In some cases discussions with the licensee have been underway for some time.

Periodic Review of Safety Process (PRS)

NII has reviewed the adequacy of the VIPER reactor PRS, noting that there is a site wide strategic review of radiation test facilities underway. Until the review is completed the future operational requirements for VIPER remain uncertain, and NII is unable to assess whether the risks are ALARP. NII will not therefore, be able to make a decision on continued future full operation of the Viper facility until the strategic review conclusions are known.

Licences issued in November 2007

LI507 Agreement to permission deliveries at Burghfield. 05/11/07.
LI508 Specification issued to AWE Burghfield for movements of HASS sources. 29/11/07.
LI512 Specification issued to AWE Aldermaston for movements of HASS sources. 29/11/07.