NEW EDITION OF MoD GUIDANCE ON NUCLEAR WEAPONS EMERGENCIES PUBLISHED
The Ministry of Defence has published a new version of its 'Local Authority and Emergency Services Information (LAESI)' guidelines to provide advice to civil emergency services on action to take in the event of an emergency during the transport of a nuclear weapon or military special nuclear materials.
The guidelines summarise the hazards resulting from an accident and outline the MoD response capabilities for handling an emergency during transit of a military nuclear cargo, and explain the actions that civil agencies would be required to take during and after an emergency.
This is the eighth edition of the LAESI guidelines, which were last updated in September 2009. The new version of the guidelines provides updated information about lines of communication and terminology, and advises that MoD's former Nuclear Accident Reponse Organisation has now been renamed as the Defence Nuclear Emergency Organisation. Consistent with this theme, all mention of 'accidents' in the guidelines have been replaced with references to 'emergencies'.
For the first time, the guidelines acknowledge explicitly that MoD would be liable for paying compensation for injury or damage caused by an emergency involving its nuclear assets or facilities.
Intriguingly, a sentence reading 'there is no credible scenario that can release in a significant release of radioactive material' in a section of the previous edition of the guidelines about a road transport accident involving nuclear weapons has been removed from the new edition. This raises the possibility that MoD safety reviews have identified previously unforseen safety risks that may apply to a warhead in transit – and that the consequences of an accident involving a warhead may be greater than previously thought.
Under the LAESI arrangements regional police forces are notified in advance of nuclear movements by the Ministry of Defence, but local authority emergency planners are not informed about such movements. Concerns have been raised by local authorities that emergency planning staff are unfamiliar with nuclear convoy operating arrangements and emergency codenames. One of the findings from an emergency planning exercise organised by the Ministry of Defence Police in South Yorkshire in 2008 was that local authorities and other civilian staff had a low level of awareness of the LAESI emergency arrangements.
P5 CONFERENCE IN PARIS
The Permanent Five (P5) members of the United States Security Council – the five nuclear weapon states recognised by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – met in Paris on June 30 – July 1 to discuss commitments made at last year's NPT Review Conference in New York.
An official statement released following the meeting reaffirmed the “unconditional support” of the five governments for the NPT, and recommendations in the Action Plan agreed in New York. Discussions took place on issues of transparency and mutual confidence and a working group has been established to prepare an agreed glossary of definitions for key nuclear terms.
The meeting also discussed challenges associated with the verification of nuclear disarmament, and discussions on this issue will continue later this year at an expert-level meeting which will take place in London.
The five nations also stated that they would renew efforts to promote negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty at the Conference on Disarmament.
A third P5 Conference to follow up the Paris meeting will take place “in the context of the next NPT Preparatory Committee”.
MoD TO AXE 7,000 MORE CIVILIAN JOBS
The Ministry of Defence is cutting civilian staff numbers by a further 7,000 in an effort to bring spending under control, according to the 'Guardian'.
The Ministry's top civil servant, Ursula Brennan, is to write to all staff explaining the need for the staff cuts, saying that further reductions are needed on top of plans outlined in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) for a 25% reduction in the cost of civilian personnel. The cuts will bring the numbers of civilian staff down to 53,00 by 2020 – half the number employed in 2005.
Ministers are hoping that changes in the way MoD works will result in a need for fewer staff, but trade unions have said that the announcement reflects staffing levels that the MoD can afford, not what it needs, and are concerned at a lack of consultation on implementing changes outlined in the SDSR.
MoD managers anticipate that many of the job losses will be achieved by natural wastage, with compulsory redundancy only necessary as a last resort. However, Ms Brennan's letter concedes: "We recognise that news of further staff reductions … will raise questions which cannot be answered immediately".
CHANGES TO AWE BURGHFIELD PERMITS AND LICENSING
The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) has applied to the Environment Agency for a variation to the environmental permit for the Burghfield site. The variation would allow AWE to transfer non-aqueous organic liquids contaminated with tritium from Burghfield to Aldermaston.
AWE has identified incineration as the best practicable environmental option for the management of tritium-contaminated organic liquid waste, and the waste will be dispatched from Aldermaston for incineration at one of a number of plants authorised to dispose of certain types of radioactive waste from AWE: the SRCL incinerator at Knostrop, near Leeds, the Tradebe incinerator at Hythe, near Southampton, and the incinerator operated by Grundon at Colnbrook, near Slough. The volume of waste that would be transferred annually is not expected to exceed 10 m3, corresponding to a total tritium activity of 10 Mbq.
The waste consists of tritium contaminated scintillation liquid in plastic vials generated by a liquid scintillation counting technique that will be used to determine levels of tritium on smears taken from various surfaces in the Burghfield plant.
The Environment Agency is currently determining the outcome of this application in consultation with other statutory organisations.
Following a separate application from AWE, the Office for Nuclear Regulation has agreed to implementation of a modification to the radioactive material handling systems used on the Burghfield site, and has also approved changes to the terms of reference for the Burghfield and Aldermaston Nuclear Safety Committee.