Public pay five million pound bill for flood damage at UK’s nuclear weapons factory

Flooding at the AWE Burghfield site in 2000


Ministers have decided that taxpayers – rather than insurers or the private company responsible for running the site – will have to pay a £5 million bill for clearing up at the Atomic Weapons Establishment following severe flooding in 2007.

Severe flooding at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Burghfield, near Reading, Berkshire, on 20th July 2007 came close to overwhelming the site, resulting in a ‘near miss’ event and causing long-term disruption to nuclear weapons manufacture,

Unpublished documents obtained a year later under the Freedom of Information Act by the Nuclear Information Service revealed the scale of the flooding at Burghfield and highlighted a series of shortfalls in emergency arrangements.  The documents showed that executives at the Atomic Weapons Establishment had covered up the true scale of the flooding, which resulted in live nuclear work being suspended for nine months.

Negotiations between AWE, the Ministry of Defence, and insurers on liability for the costs of repairing extensive damage at Burghfield have taken two years to complete.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence Peter Luff told Caroline Lucas:  “The cost incurred by the Ministry of Defence as a result of the flood at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in 2007 was some £5 million. The Ministry of Defence Police based at Burghfield also incurred flood-related costs totalling £110,000 which did not form part of the AWE Management Ltd claim. A small claim from an AWE sub-contractor has still to be resolved.

“The £5 million flood-related costs described above were incurred by AWE Management Ltd and their operating company, AWE plc, and were the costs claimed from the Department under non-nuclear indemnity.
“No costs were incurred by commercial insurers as a result of the flood, as the non-nuclear indemnity is in place to cover such events”.

Peter Burt, Director of Nuclear Information Service said:

“The scale of flooding at Burghfield in 2007 was entirely the result of failings by AWE plc, who had neglected a programme of remediation works and overlooked flood risks in emergency plans, even though the company knew the site had a history of flooding.

“Over in the USA President Obama has forced multinational oil company BP to pay for the mistakes it has made over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but here in the UK the Ministry of Defence is quite happy to hand taxes paid by hard working families over to AWE – a consortium of some of the richest military contractors in the world – so that the company doesn't lose money over the damage caused during the floods.

“AWE should be ashamed of the way it has conducted itself over this scandalous affair and should repay the money to the Treasury at once.”

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