Planning blight around AWE Aldermaston
The Boundary Hall planning application by Cala Homes for 100 houses on this site in Tadley has been called in by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government at the request of the Health and Safety Executive. Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, despite wanting to pass the application, have been ordered to commence preparations for a Public Inquiry, to be held in October at the Civic Offices in London Road, Basingstoke. The decision has been taken out of the Council's hands.
HSE's reason for objecting to the development is that the site falls within the closest (inner) zone of the "Detailed Emergency Planning Zone" (DEPZ)- the area that would be most at risk in the event of an emergency at AWE. Clearly there is a limit to the number of people who could be informed, kept in or out of the area in the brief amount of time it takes for a plume of radiation to move with the wind, and this limit has already been exceeded in the 0 - 3km radius of AWE Aldermaston area. HSE's rule is that no additional persons or dwellings should be permitted in the inner DEPZ . Odd single dwellings have been left uncontested by the HSE in the interests of not acting disproportionately, but 100 new dwellings are a different matter.
The inner DEPZ encompasses Tadley, Pamber Heath, Heath End, most of Baughurst, Brimpton and Aldermaston Village. The middle zone (3- 5km radius) in which developments of 20 dwellings, 50 persons would be allowed, encompasses Silchester, Padworth, Aldermaston Wharf and Woolhampton. The outer ring (5 - 8km) would permit developments of up to 200 dwellings, 500 persons. It encompasses Mortimer,Burghfield Common, Ufton Nervet, Sulhamstead, Bucklebury, Headley, Bramley and the eastern end of Thatcham.
The planning blight also covers some industrial and commercial developments, such as any that involve explosives, toxic or corrosive materials, electromagnetic interference, grid instability, wind farms (for fear of blade detachment), military facilities (risks from missiles or aircraft) and...flooding.
We are pleased that at long last the HSE is taking this matter seriously. NAG has consistently opposed development so close to AWE, not only because of the problems in an emergency situation,but also because of the vulnerability especially of young families to radiation from AWE's day to day discharges and to the legacy of contamination in the soil. The German KiKK study's findings of increased childhood cancers and leukaemias within 0 - 5km radii of nuclear plants has confirmed our opinion that the Boundary Hall site is not appropriate for a residential development.
So what would happen if there were an emergency at AWE Aldermaston?
West Berkshire Council's recently updated Contingency Arrangements Plan involves populations downwind of the incident staying indoors wherever they happen to be, and not go out until given the all-clear. Areas at risk of contamination would be cordoned off - no going back home from outside it. Road and rail closures would be made, and it is anticipated that drinking water might need to be fetched in and locally produced food placed under restriction.
An exercise to test out the plan is due on 10th November. The reality, of course, is that, like Icelandic volcanic ash or the Chernobyl plume, the radiation would not be containable.
Our complaint about West Berkshire Council's handling of AWE's MENSA planning application
We have reached the end of the line with our complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman about the manner in which West Berkshire Council handled last year's planning application for the new 'Project Mensa' warhead assembly / disassembly facility at AWE Burghfield. The Ombudsman has found the Council to be not at fault in its procedures. We are disappointed that the flooding issue was brushed aside - clearly public concern over flooding doesn't matter so long as the Environment Agency says the measures being taken will do. Lets hope they are right.
One good outcome is Reading Borough Council's insistence that they be properly consulted in all future planning applications from AWE. Reading Borough Council wrote to West Berkshire stating:
"Members failed to understand West Berkshire's decision to not consult Reading Borough Council, which was simply based on the distance of the application site from our boundary. It was felt that this showed a lack of appreciation of the concerns held by many residents in Reading for the continued presence of AWE so close to this highly populated area"(Reading Borough Council letter to West Berkshire, 5 February 2009). However, Reading's concerns have been ignored by West Berkshire, which failed to consult Reading on the recent 'Project Pegasus' planning application at AWE (see below).
AWE Planning Issues
The application for 'Project Pegasus', the Highly Enriched Uranium facility at AWE Aldermaston, came before West Berkshire's planners in February. There was a demonstration outside the community hall at Calcot to greet the Councillors as they came in. It had the theme of "gagging", which in fact was what happened, as the 1400 public objections to the planning application were not discussed. The Officer recommended approval, since the new facility would not be visually intrusive or cause traffic problems. Peter Burt spoke on behalf of NAG and used his 5-minute slot to raise the usual issues of concern - inadequate information about risks, inadequate consultation (a Parish Councillor from Tidmarsh in the audience knew of no consultation). AWE then played their trump card, that this is just a replacement facility, nothing new, and HSE and NII are happy with it.
Aldermaston Parish Council had asked for a condition, that no more uranium be used than before, but the Officer pointed out that the Council have no powers to do this and no condition was applied - even though AWE representatives at the meeting stated they would have no objection to such a condition! The application was passed, with one Councillor voting against on the grounds that he did not know enough about the potential risk.
The planning application for the new hydrodynamics facility at Aldermaston, 'Project Hydrus' was scheduled for submission in April but has been delayed until the end of May to avoid any controversy during the General Election. Opinion polls are consistently showing that voters are increasingly doubtful of the value of continuing with an expensive nuclear weapons programme when its usefulness in military terms is so limited, with the cost so high and money so tight.
The purpose of Hydrus is to enable research to be done on testing the flow characteristics of materials at high pressures. This is another part of the process of being able to do nuclear testing without the detonation, which is now prohibited under the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Hydrus assumes that nuclear weapons have a long-term future. Is this a rational assumption in this time of a growing international groundswell for ridding the world of nuclear weapons as the only way of dealing with the problem of proliferation?
The scientists who work at Aldermaston may well be wondering about their long-term career prospects. Already some diversification from warhead production and maintenance work is planned, in the form of selling the services of the 'Orion' laser to the outside world. We suggest that it is the verification work which takes place at AWE's offshoot at Blacknest, near Brimpton, which has the long-term future.
Here are two examples of just how difficult it is to deal with radioactive waste safely.
The Pangbourne pipeline is still quietly rusting away underground since its closure 5 years ago. It passes under Ufton Nervet, the River Kennet, the M4 and the A4, and Tidmarsh before reaching the Thames, where the outlet section has already been removed. A lot of the route goes through land belonging to the Englefield Estate, owned by the Benyon family.
The longer the decision about dealing with the pipe's radioactive carcass is delayed, the worse the corrosion becomes. AWE plans to publish its study of the options for dealing with the pipeline shortly and consult on them. The option of flushing out the radioactive scale on the inner surfaces now looks doubtful because of the deteriorating condition of the pipes. The alternatives are to render it 'safe' in other ways - not easy since the contamination is of the virtually everlasting kind - or to remove it, which begs the question 'where to?' Since it came from Aldermaston, the all too easy option could be for it to join the already substantial stock of radioactive waste which has been accumulating at Aldermaston over the years.
Laid-up nuclear powered submarines: when Britain's nuclear powered submarines reach retirement age, the problem arises as to what to do with the radioactive reactor compartment when the submarine is decommissioned. No solution has yet been found, and fifteen subs are currently tied up indefinitely at Rosyth and Devonport naval dockyards awaiting the solution. Each reactor compartment is about the size of two double decker buses.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has considered storing the waste at one of the sites they run (Sellafield, Dounreay etc) but there is a problem - planning permission would be needed, and the local authorities concerned would not be over keen on importing yet more radioactive waste onto their patch. So now the military sites, including Aldermaston and Burghfield, are under consideration. If the experience of AWE's planning applications to West Berkshire Council are anything to go by, getting planning permission should be a doddle.
Low level radiation - notes from Dr Ian Fairlie's talk
Independent consultant Dr Ian Fairlie gave us more information about the German 'Kikk' study into the effects of low level radiation February's NAG meeting. This was a very thorough 4 year study carried out by the University of Mainz by epidemiologists, all of whom were pro-nuclear, looking at leukaemia and cancer rates in children living within 5 km of a nuclear plant. The original purpose was to demonstrate that there is no link between radiation from the nuclear industry and public health. The results were to the contrary, and a big increase in cancer rates was found: 2.2-fold for leukaemias and 1.6-fold for solid cancers.
These results are too strong to be explained by confounding matters, coincidence, population mixing, chemicals or viruses, nor can they be due to 'shine' from the nuclear plant or electromagnetic radiation. That only leaves discharges from the plants. Reactors have to purge for 4-5 days every 3 months, causing a concentrated discharge spike which is more dangerous than an even distribution of the same amount.
The German Government has accepted the results of the study but the UK Government has not.
Dr Fairlie was unimpressed by COMARE's studies on behalf of the government, which are based on dose estimates which involve unacknowledged multiple and accumulating uncertainties. A UK study (Bithell) has deliberately omitted a number of leukaemias near Calder Hall.
Dr Fairlie also cast doubt on the population mixing hypothesis to explain leukaemia clusters, since clustering is a phenomenon common to all forms of ill health. He also considers that insufficient attention is paid to age of the victim - no one has yet done a survey of pre-natal doses, yet stem cells are uniquely susceptible to radiation. The reason female fertility declines with age is damage to the ova from background radiation.
We were warned to be more aware of the dangers of tritium, which can combine with oxygen to form radioactive water which, like water, is highly mobile. It is only harmful to humans inside the body, but once there it will stick around and seek out certain kinds of cell. Tritiated water from discharges to air like those from AWE Aldermaston will end up in the ground where plants will take it up. All biota downwind of a facility which regularly discharges tritium to air can be expected to be tritiated to some extent.
In conclusion, Dr Fairlie commented that 7-8 thousand people die each year as a result of background radiation. Low levels are therefore obviously harmful.
You can read a full report of the meeting and download a copy of Dr Fairlie's presentation from the NAG website at www.nuclearawarenessgroup.org.uk
NAG Newsletter editor: Evelyn Parker
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