NAG NEWSLETTER: AUTUMN / WINTER 2011

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NEXT MEETING

Our next meeting and Annual General Meeting for 2011 will be at 7 pm on Wednesday November 16th at Room 1, the RISC Centre, 35-39 London St, Reading. As well as the AGM business, we will be considering our response to the Ministry of Defence Submarine Dismantling Project consultation (see below).

LOCAL NEWS : ATOMIC WEAPONS ESTABLISHMENT

 

 

  • We have written to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate encouraging them to object to the Minister's decision to over-rule the planning inspector and allow the Boundary Hall scheme for residential development so close to AWE Aldermaston to go ahead. We do not know whether they followed this up.

 

 

  • AWE are continuing to sponsor the Newbury Spring festival, thereby making it possible to hold workshops for hundreds of schoolchildren. Also, they have appointed for the first time a 'Corporate Ethics' Manager. Both of these seem to us to be inappropriate for an organisation whose purpose is to manufacture weapons of indiscriminate mass destruction. AWE are a lot more diffident when it comes to our requests for a speaker or for a representative from NAG to attend meetings of the Local Liaison Committee.
  • Better news – AWE are putting their experience with monitoring radioactive particles in the air to use by joining forces with a commercial undertaking which plans to develop a new monitoring product.
  • The American firm Lockheed Martin, one of AWE's parent companies, is now part of the consortium running the Coulport nuclear weapons store in Scotland alongside the AWE Aldermaston and Burghfield sites - as well as conducting the 2011 national census. Local unions commented: “This transfer was always about the MoD transferring risk to the private sector, therefore enabling them to point a finger at the contractors for any mistakes in handling the weapons system”. The MoD remain in overall charge of safety policy, security and emergency management planning – but not of hands-on work.
  • AWE has applied to the Environment Agency for permission to send tritium-contaminated waste from Burghfield to Aldermaston, which is already licensed to send such waste for incineration to Colnbrook, Hythe or Leeds.

 

RADIOACTIVE WASTE ISSUES

Submarine Dismantling Consultation

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced that a 16 week period of public consultation on options for its Submarine Dismantling Project will commence on Friday 28 October 2011.

The Submarine Dismantling Project aims to find a solution to the problems of disposing of the Royal Navy's redundant nuclear submarines, which are contaminated with radioactive waste. The consultation exercise will seek views on a number of key issues relating to the project: how the radioactive materials should be removed from the submarines; where this should take place; and which type of site should be used for interim storage of the intermediate level radioactive waste generated following submarine dismantling.

MoD has already announced that its preferred candidate sites for where radioactive waste will be removed from submarines are Devonport and Rosyth dockyards, or a combination of the two. Decisions about the location for interim storage of the radioactive waste produced by the dismantling process will be the subject of a further consultation process in due course. At an earlier stage in the project the AWE sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield were listed as potential candidate sites for the storage of submarine waste.

Comments will also be invited on the findings of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and the draft Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) for the project, and on the project more generally.

There will be a particular focus on consultation in the Plymouth and Rosyth areas and in the neighbouring areas of Saltash, Torpoint and Edinburgh, and two national workshops have been arranged for 31 January 2012 in Birmingham and 6 February 2012 in Glasgow. To book a place at one of these events please contact the MoD's project team by email on DESSMIS-SDP@mod.uk.

Consultation documents, including the SEA and HRA reports and supporting documents, will be published on the Submarine Dismantling Project web site (www.mod.uk/submarinedismantling ) at the start of the consultation period.

The Nuclear Submarine Forum (NSubF), representing a number of local groups from all parts of the UK which are stakeholders in nuclear submarine dismantlement, is supporting the consultation and encouraging all who may be affected by the submarine dismantling proposals to take the opportunity to have their say. NsubF's website is at http://www.nuclearsubwaste.net .

(from Nuclear Information Service 'NIS Update', October 2011).

Military radioactive waste issues

The MoD has recently published its Nuclear Liabilities Management Strategy proposals – in other words, how it plans to deal with its radioactive waste accumulation and disused nuclear facilities, materials, sites and submarines (Hansard, 15 September 2011). Although the wastes in question only accounts for 1.5% of the UK's total volume of radioactive waste, they are still substantial, especially as the plutonium stockpile is not included, being regarded as an asset and not waste.

The strategy consists of co-ordinating with the civil sector about geological disposal of some waste, keeping options open for reprocessing of other types that still contain 'valuable' components, and for problems like disposal of submarine waste one, asking the public. As Liam Fox, former Secretary of State for Defence put it, “It is currently not possible to have a complete strategy for some of the MoD's nuclear liabilities...as options are further examined and analysed.”

MoD plan to publish a revised strategy every 5 years. Meanwhile, Aldermaston remains a growing radioactive waste dump.

The link between civil and military waste is made clear. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is worried about the waste issue. Half of the budget of his Department, the Department for Energy and Climate Change, goes on cleaning up Britain's legacy of nuclear waste, which includes the world's largest stockpile of civil plutonium (doesn't he know its an asset?) not to mention the other high, intermediate and low-level waste volumes. It's costing us taxpayers £2 billion a year to pay for electricity that was consumed in the 1950's, 60's and 70's, and the total cost of dealing with UK radioactive waste is estimated at £49 billion. No wonder the MoD strategy is so light on action.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS EMERGENCY GUIDELINES

The MoD has recently published an update of its guidelines for Local Authorities, Fire and Police services on dealing with an accident involving a nuclear weapon. We note that the word “accidents” has been replaced by “emergencies” throughout the document - have accidents stopped happening?
However, for the first time, the guidelines acknowledge specifically that the MoD would be liable for paying compensation for injury or damage caused by an emergency involving its nuclear assets or facilities.

A significant sentence has been removed - “there is no credible scenario that can result in a significant release of radioactive material” (in relation to nuclear warheads being transported off-base). This raises the possibility that the MoD have acknowledged that there is a credible scenario, as we have said all along.

The convoys are not immune to accident. Nor, unfortunately, are nuclear installations. On 12 September there was an explosion at a French nuclear plant at Marcoule, near Avignon. One person was killed, one was seriously burned and three others injured. Electricite de France (EDF) announced that the explosion occurred in an oven used to melt metallic radioactive waste (low level) and that no radioactive leaks or contamination were found. The plant stores large amounts of radioactive waste. Shares in EDF forthwith fell sharply, an indication of public nervousness about nuclear safety post-Fukushima. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, one of the few leading politicians who is also a scientist, has decided to phase out nuclear power.

The Guardian newspaper's editorial of 16 August commented, a propos the playing down of the consequences of the dreadful accident at Fukushima: “In every country that has a nuclear industry..the impulse to minimise the inherent risks of the most dangerous technology man has ever tried to master, the tendency to conceal or downplay accidents... and the presumption, so often proved wrong by events, that every contingency has been provided for, all these have been evident again and again.”

LEARNING THE LESSONS FROM THE FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR DISASTER

The Office for Nuclear Regulation report “Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami – Implications for the UK Nuclear Industry” by the Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations, Mike Weightman, was published on 11 October 2011 and concentrates almost entirely on the civil nuclear sector. Dr Weightman's basic conclusion was that there are no fundamental safety weaknesses in the UK nuclear industry, but it can be made even safer. The only references to the military sector relate to AWE Aldermaston and Burghfield, together with sites at Rolls Royce Derby, Barrow in Furness, and the naval dockyards at Rosyth and Devonport. All these were only referred to in the section relating to flooding risk, whether from rising sea levels or flash flooding. Paragraphs 166 and 167 read:

“166. The Aldermaston sites are located in Berkshire, more than 20km from the coast. Flooding from seaward inundation can be readily dismissed as a concern.

167. The sites are at elevations of + 100m and +45m AOD respectively. The only flood risk to these sites is from rapid rainfall events and associated run-off from local catchments. Local build-up of water on the sites from these effects is possible. In 2007, flooding on the Burghfield site led to extensive re-appraisal of both sites and the installation of flood protection measures on the Burghfield site. All new facilities being constructed on the sites take due account of the flood risk.”

We found this to be a somewhat complacent conclusion, which has left us wondering whether Mr Weightman was told about the situation at the Aldermaston site during the flash floods of July 2007. On that occasion Burghfield was seriously affected and a report on the event was broadcast by Channel 4 News. As a result, some flood defence measures are indeed being incorporated at Burghfield at the insistence of the Environment Agency. What happened at Aldermaston on the same occasion was that the North Ponds tank complex, which was designed to deal with surface water drainage, was innundated with high volumes of run-off rainwater. No nuclear facilities were flooded, but the stormwater overran the tanks and cascaded over onto land outside the fence. and into Aldermaston Stream which runs through the village further down the hill. At the time, the stream was already in full spate. As far as we know, this incident received little public attention apart from in the NAG newsletter.

The lessons from Fukushima should relate to the public's safety, not just to the safety of the nuclear sites themselves.

URANIUM

It is good to note that Costa Rica has joined Belgium in banning depleted uranium weaponry. More evidence is coming to light of the risk to health from this form of low-level radiation's risk. A new paper has been published in 'Conflict and Health' following a 2010 report in the 'International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health' which analysed hair samples of parents of children born with congenital malformations in Fallujah, Iraq. Particular attention was paid to hair long enough to have been around when depleted uranium weaponry was used there. High levels of Calcium, Magnesium, Strontium, Aluminium, Bismuth, Mercury and Uranium were found. Of these, Uranium is the only one associated with birth defects. . Both civilians and the military on both sides of the conflict would have been affected.