NIS Update August 2009

Nuclear Information Service

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NIS Update      31st August 2009 


The Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has announced that it has given AWE permission to renew live warhead operations at AWE Burghfield after nearly three years of 'special measures' to improve safety standards at the site.   

Since late 2006 a strategy of permissioning was adopted by the NII under which AWE was permitted to undertake only limited, defined operational activities at Burghfield.    The permissioning regime was put in place to ensure that AWE acted to progress remediation work needed to address safety shortfalls at Burghfield which had been identified as a result of the Periodic Review of Safety at the site.  In September 2007 AWE agreed that no live nuclear work at all would be carried out at Burghfield until the necessary fixes had been put in place. 

HSE's second quarter report for the AWE sites states that, “in line with the permissioning strategy adopted at Burghfield, NII issued Licence Instrument No. 518 to allow AWE to undertake live operations in Burghfield.  This followed the demonstration of satisfactory progress being made against a schedule of agreed deliverables.  Since the issue of this Licence Instrument, and in recognition of the improvements made over the last couple of years, AWE has been informed that NII has now lifted the permissioning regime for live working at Burghfield.  This will allow AWE to undertake routine operations without the need to seek formal agreement from NII.” 


The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has reported an incident in which radioactive contamination spread in a building undergoing decommissioning at AWE Aldermaston on 29th June 2009.  Although no radioactive material spread beyond the site boundary, HSE is currently investigating the incident and is considering whether to take  enforcement action against AWE over the matter.   

Both HSE and the Environment Agency were informed of the contamination event by AWE, but the press and members of the public were kept in the dark about the incident.  The event only came to light when it was mentioned in the quarterly report to AWE's Local Liaison Committee which is published on the HSE website. 

The quarterly report notes that HSE's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate carried out a preliminary investigation into this event and  was satisfied that AWE's response to the event was appropriate.  AWE is undertaking its own investigations into the event to establish if any lessons can be learnt, and the NII will expect to be appraised of the outcome of this investigation. 


A Parliamentary Question asked by SNP MP Mike Weir has revealed that a minor fire took place at AWE Burghfield in December 2006. Mr Weir's question exposed the fact that, since 2001, there have been 82 fires and 83 coolant leaks recorded at nuclear installations across the UK.  One of these took place at AWE Burghfield on 23rd December 2006, recorded as “Smouldering cable in plant room”.   

A ‘fire’ at a nuclear licensed site has been defined as  “a situation where ignition of material has taken place on the licensed site or instances of smouldering there where such ignition could not reasonably be ruled out given the information in the record”.  Although the 2006 incident at Burghfield appears to have been minor in nature, it was assessed by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate as having had the potential to challenge a nuclear safety system. 


The Health and Safety Executive has stepped in to delay the issue of planning permission for the controversial Boundary Hall planning application close to AWE Aldermaston's Falcon Gate. 

In July Basingstoke and Deane Council gave permission to Cala Homes to build more than 100 homes on the 'Boundary Hall' site in Aldermaston Road, close to AWE Aldermaston's Falcon Gate, despite objections from HSE.  

HSE had objected to the application because the size of the proposed development and its close proximity to the AWE site boundary meant that the population within the inner Emergency Planning Zone surrounding AWE Aldermaston would breach safety limits. 

HSE has now applied for an Article 14 Direction to delay the issue of planning permission.  An Article 14 Direction is a holding direction issued by the Secretary of State under Article 14 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order 1995, stating that a local planning authority cannot grant planning permission for a particular development until further notice. 

The Direction will expire on 31st October, and in the meantime the Government Office for the South East will consider the case for the planning application to be called in to be determined by the Secretary of State.   HSE has set up an  independent case panel to consider the legal, technical, and policy arguments for calling the application in. 

The Boundary Hall development looks likely to become a test case on the effectiveness of development control within nuclear safeguarding zones. 


Work is now well underway at AWE Burghfield to prepare the construction enclave for Project Mensa – the new warhead assembly / disassembly facility which will replace the ageing Gravel Gerties.  Construction work will take place in a special enclave isolated from the rest of the Burghfield site, with construction traffic entering and leaving via the Pingewood Gate in Burnthouse Lane and travelling via Burghfield Road to M4 Junction 12. 

Road improvements on the route to the Pingewood Gate have already been completed by West Berkshire Council, and new inner gates and chicane security features have been built inside the Gate.  Former explosives magazine buildings on the Mensa site are currently being demolished, and a £3.7million contract has recently been awarded to construction company BMA Nuttall for enabling works at the Mensa construction site, which are scheduled to start in January 2010.   At the June 2009 AWE Local Liaison Committee meeting members were told that the investment costs for Project Mensa will total more than £500 million. 

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