AWE hid 2000% radioactive discharge increase request from councillors
20 February 2018
The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) failed to mention they were applying for an increase of over 2000% in the level of radioactive material they release into the air when they met with local councillors last December. The application, which is currently being considered by the Environment Agency, would allow AWE to increase the amount of radioactive gasses called ‘volatile beta emitters’ they are allowed release from 4.4 megabecquerels (MBq) to 100 MBq a year, an increase of 22 times, or 2200%.
AWE has to hold ‘Local Liaison Committee (LLC)’ meetings with local elected representatives several times a year as a requirement of its nuclear installation license. The meetings are attended by the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency and are intended to give local councillors an opportunity to ask questions of AWE and its regulators. AWE did not include the application on the agenda for the most recent meeting on 6th December 2017. The application had been signed on 5th December by Haydn Clulow, AWE’s Director of Site and Transformation, who chaired the LLC meeting the following day.
“AWE’s lack of respect for local councillors is shocking” said David Cullen, director of the Nuclear Information Service. “They finalised the application the day before the meeting but failed to mention it, which shows an utter contempt for accountability and for the local people who would be affected by the proposed change. AWE should be forced to withdraw the application and apologise to the local liaison committee for this underhand behaviour.”
Notes to editors:
1. The application and supporting documents can be found at https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/psc/rg7-4pr-awe-plc/. The Environment Agency is running a public consultation on the application which closes on 22nd February.
2. Beta emitters are radioactive elements that produce beta radiation. Volatile is a chemistry term which means a substance that can easily vaporise and become a gas. All the volatile beta emitters that AWE release into the environment are released as gasses.
3. A becquerel is a measure of the quantity of radioactive material. One bequerel is the quantity of material where radioactive decay will occur once every second. One megabecquerel means one million becquerels of material.
4. AWE’s LLC meetings are currently held three times a year. More information on the purpose of the meetings and recent reports from the regulator can be found on the ONR website: http://www.onr.org.uk/llc/index.htm
5. See https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/psc/rg7-4pr-awe-plc/supporting_documents/Application%20Forms.pdf The signature is on the 13th page of the pdf. AWE subsequently sent members of the LLC a letter drawing their attention to the application, but the committee will not meet again until after the consultation closes.
6. AWE releases volatile beta emitters into the environment during a process to prepare samples for testing exercises as part of AWE’s nuclear forensics capability. In the exercises, which are undertaken jointly with other countries, all participants analyse the same samples and compare the results in order to rehearse the testing process and validate their testing methods. AWE say they are not able to alter the exercises to keep emissions within their current limit and that fitting equipment to reduce the emissions would be too expensive. They have not provided any costings to support this.
7. Nuclear Information Service (NIS) is a not-for-profit independent information service which works to promote public awareness and foster debate on nuclear disarmament and related safety and environmental issues. More information at http://nuclearinfo.org.
8. NIS have written a response to the Environment Agency which highlights a number of shortcomings and issues with AWE’s application. It can be found at https://www.nuclearinfo.org/sites/default/files/Response%20to%20AWE%20Volatile%20Beta%20limit%20increase%20application.docx
For more information please contact NIS Director David Cullen by phone on 0118 327 4935 or 07732 872895 or by email at email@example.com.