7 pm WEDNESDAY 23rd July 2008

Civic Centre Reading


Nuclear Emergency Planning

A non-political discussion on safety and emergency plans


Carolyn Murison

Principle Civil Contingencies Officer

West Berks. Council




The West Berks. Council Emergency Plan for AWE is on the Council’s website at It was due to be updated this year, but the 2004 version remains the current plan. The risks of a nuclear accident at AWE Aldermaston or Burghfield, or with a convoy on the road, may be small because reasonable precautions are taken by the MoD and AWE. However, the concern is that something will go terribly wrong and a nuclear release to the atmosphere will occur.



The very serious situation over sub-standard “gravel gerties” (warhead dis/assembly facilities) at Burghfield continues. (See last newsletter). Regular live nuclear work has been stopped and work is only allowed under a strict single license permissioning Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) regime, until remedial work is complete.

The NII and the MOD are to be congratulated on their decision to prioritise safety in this way. It cannot have been easy to decide to halt live work until the problems have been adequately dealt with – especially for the MOD with its long tradition of prioritising defence of the realm. A civil engineering report and electrical engineering report warrant such drastic action. This stop on live warhead work has been going on since the flooding at AWE Burghfeld in July 2007, and there is no prospect of the facilities being replaced for at least another 3 years.


We are not handing out congratulations over the way matters have been allowed to reach a point where live work on warhead maintenance has had to stop. What an indictment! This situation has not arisen suddenly; the NII have been demanding remedial work since 2003 and deadline after deadline has been missed in getting on with it. Responsibility must lie with the management body, AWEML, and the way they have chosen to allocate resources. Millions of pounds are being spent on fancy prestigious new office accommodation at Aldermaston. At Burghfield, a brand new restaurant is in the process of being erected. What is going on? Who decides the spending priorities? How will they be held accountable?


At government level, up until 2005/6 we were told that the purpose of the new developments at Aldermaston was to enable the Trident warhead stockpile to be maintained for the rest of its useful life. Later, it was admitted that a new Trident system was on the cards, with the probable requirement for a new warhead. Many people thought all along that the foundations were being laid for replacing Trident. Now that Trident warhead maintenance is clearly shown to be a low priority matter, it looks like the public has been misled. Further, the hiatus in the work to disassemble its warheads in the gravel gerties at Burghfield, is not just a local hiccup, it has wider implications. It is restricting compliance with its obligations re nuclear disarmament under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The remedial work that needs to be done – and done very soon indeed - is only a patch-up job. A new dis/assembly plant needs to be built as a matter of priority and those responsible for the present fiasco held to account.





AWE’s environmental monitoring of airborne discharges of plutonium and uranium particles is done by samplers placed in various locations on site and in a radius of about 10 miles from the site. One such sampler is situated in Prospect Park, Reading. During routine monitoring of the dust collected in this sampler, it was discovered last year that on four occasions, the levels of uranium it had collected were higher than the notification level – 1000nbq/m3. This anomaly was duly investigated, and subjected to radiochemical analysis. This showed that the uranium was of the naturally occurring type, and not of the sort discharged from Aldermaston. Whew! Furthermore, the sampler was of a new type, which was more efficient at collecting dust particles from the air than the previous model.

However, seven samples collected on the Aldermaston site also showed excess uranium, also in 2007. The reason given for this anomaly was that the sampler was located close to where some building work was in progress.


This information comes from the minutes of the Local Liaison Committee, the group of Parish etc councillors which meet with AWE regularly (and from which we are excluded). There is no evidence that anyone questioned why the reasons for the anomalies changed, or whether the on-site excesses were also of natural origin. This Committee does not seem to be about asking awkward questions.






A recent question asked in the House of Commons has a bearing on nuclear transport movements locally. Mike Hancock MP enquired whether the planned changes to the vehicles which carry nuclear warheads and nuclear materials would comply with the 2007 Carriage of Nuclear Goods Regulations. In a cagey reply, Bob Ainsworth asserted that provisions exist under these regulations for “radioactive materials defined as instruments of war, or components thereof” to be exempt. Notwithstanding, arrangements for transportation of these hazardous cargoes to be “at least as good as those required by legislation” – “as far as is reasonably practicable”.


Mr Hancock had expressed particular concern about the display – or lack thereof – of radiation hazard warning signs on the vehicles. The reply was that the convoys carry their own escort for dealing with emergencies, and furthermore, matters of security needed to be taken into consideration. In other words, Nuclear Materials convoys will no longer carry radiation hazard warning signs because the MoD considers it better that other drivers do not know that these are nuclear convoys; but neither will the emergency services.


In the light of this, it was very enlightening to watch the Nukewatch video at our last meeting. It was easy to see how a nuclear road accident might occur. If the MOD is changing the practice of displaying normal hazard warning signs, it is putting secrecy above safety again. These convoys are on the roads for all to see, they cannot be kept secret, so why compromise safety?





The April 08 edition of Radioactive Times, the publication of the Low Level Radiation Campaign, contains a lot of interesting information, including:

  • It traces the history of the mixture of accidental and less accidental events which have resulted in the underestimation of the effects of internal radiation
  • An article from the USA tells how low level radiation washed up on the sea shore and flat estuary areas around San Francisco co-relate to mapped breast cancer rates and deaths. This is a phenomenon which the Low Level Radiation Campaign has been investigating for some time in the coastal areas around Hinkley Point and the areas affected by Sellafield’s discharges to sea, with similar results, and in both countries, similar official denial of the co-relation.
  • A radioactive leak occurred at Hinkley in October 1994. Two years later, there was an increase in the statistics for infant mortality risk in the wards around the estuary but not inland.
  • Another area which is being investigated for childhood leukaemia excesses is around the Solway Firth, where Depleted Uranium shells are tested. This area also suffered contamination from Chernobyl.
  • Green Audit’s survey of cancers around the now closed Magnox plant at Trawsfynydd, North Wales linked the raised levels of cancer in the area around the plant to the nearby lake, which is heavily contaminated with plutonium and Strontium-90, but still used as a tourist amenity and for fishing
  • More light is thrown on why the German study of childhood leukaemia near nuclear sites (see Winter07/8 newsletter) was able to find such a strong co-relation with the sites. Its about what you choose to study. The wider the area around the nuclear plant in question, and the wider the age-range of the children you choose to study, the more dilute will be your results.
  • The good news is that a growing number of authorities now admit that the very localised impact of alpha emitters and some other kinds of internal radioactivity makes nonsense of the ICRP’s concept of average dose on the external model.

This issue of “Radioactive Times” can be seen at





Sellafield – Whitehaven News reported in April that milk in a local farm was found to contain abnormal concentrations of radioactive iodine 129. Apparently it is a mystery how this contamination got into the food chain (the possibility that it might be connected with something the cows ate comes to mind), and other local farms are being checked.

San Francisco – According to Time Magazine in May, an exercise took place at the Lawrence Livermore nuclear lab, in which a commando team posing as terrorists attacked the lab, overpowered its defences and reached their objective, a mock payload of fissile material, highlighting a number of security shortcomings.





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