NAG NEWSLETTER WINTER 2007/08
TUESDAY 29th January 2008
7pm Civic Centre, Reading
Strategy Planning Meeting
with updates on local issues
Reading Borough Council’s Emergency Planning Officer was unable to attend our October meeting, because an emergency exercise was due at Aldermaston in November. He will unfortunately not be able to be with us at our January meeting – possibly because the Emergency Plan is currently under revision, due for completion in January.
We are particularly keen to meet with him because information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed that two out of six emergency exercises carried out by AWE between January 2006 and September 2007 proved so unsatisfactory that the Health and Safety Executive ordered them to be repeated.
The Nuclear Information Service (NIS) examined the documents and found that if these two exercises had been real emergencies, there would have been inadequate protection for casualties, emergency responders and the public, especially if the event had occurred out of hours. Not surprisingly, inability to control spread of radioactive contamination was a recurring problem.
An application for a Components Manufacturing Facility came before W. Berkshire Eastern Area Planning Committee in November. NAG had submitted that before allowing this application, the Committee should stipulate inclusion of a comprehensive flood management plan, approved by the Environment Agency. This is because the site was severely flooded in July, and being low-lying, is flooding-prone. We also asked that the numerous safety issues raised by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, which AWE has been so dilatory about (see last newsletter), be rectified as a condition of approval. The Committee decided not to bother with such minor matters, and gave its approval.
AWE has submitted an application for a High Explosives Fabrication Facility to be built on the Eastern area of the site. Why on earth was AWE sited where it is, with so many people around? Thanks to the investigations into the implications of this proposal by the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), NAG was able to send in an objection drawing attention to the proximity of the proposed new building to Red Lane, part of which is likely to be within the explosives hazard zone. This is not mentioned in the environmental background information accompanying the application, but has been worked out by NIS`s consultants.
Other significant deficiencies have been raised by other parties, in particular about the dearth of information from AWE about safety and environmental issues, not just the extent of the hazard zone. Information has been withheld on “defence exempt” grounds, for instance how hazardous waste created during operations would be dealt with. Another consideration is decommissioning – we have been told that the old high explosives facility at Burghfield has to be demolished brick by brick because normal demolition methods would be too dangerous. It is difficult to see how the Committee will be able to reach an informed decision on the basis of the information available to them at present. The application is expected to be considered shortly, but the deadline for comments is past.
Storm Water at Aldermaston
In last Newsletter we reported on our Freedom of Information request asking for documentation on contingency arrangements in the event of flooding at Aldermaston. We also asked for information on how flooding risks are assessed – on or off site. We wrote on 25th July and got a substantive reply on 11th December. It offered us 13 documents (mostly not useful) and asked us to refine our request, as obtaining the 13 documents for us would cost more than the £600 free provision limit.
Whatever the contingency arrangements or the risk evaluation methods are, they clearly failed in July 2007, so we will continue with this strange dialogue, because next time the water that runs off-site from AWE may not be uncontaminated, and climate change predictions are that flash floods are likely to become a more frequent phenomenon.
AWE Aldermaston is authorised to discharge surface water off-site at seven points:
- North Ponds Complex (into Aldermaston Stream)
- by Falcon Fields
- at Contractors Road
- Fish Pond and Stock Pond (off Red Lane)
- Decoy Pond (into West End Brook)
- by Circus Farm (Burghfield Road)
The North Ponds outfall is the one that concerns us most, partly because this is not the first time we have observed flooding off-site at that point, but also because the northern and central parts of the site, which is where the work involving radiation is carried out, drain into the North Ponds Complex.
The cancer risk from exposure to radioactive Tritium could be twice as higher as previously assumed – this is the conclusion drawn by the UK Government’s Health Protection Agency (HPA). The evidence that Tritium causes more biological damage than currently assumed is solid enough to justify a change in international safety standards, and HPA recommend a doubling of the risk weighting.
But will ICRP listen? They say they will consider the issue, but past performance indicates that the result will depend more on how the nuclear industry could cope with tighter limits on Tritium discharges than on public doses.
The discharges of Tritium from Aldermaston are low at the moment but will increase if and when work starts on a replacement for Trident.
Depleted Uranium (DU)
In March 2007 Belgium became the first country in the world to introduce a domestic ban on the use of uranium in all conventional weapons systems. It did so in response to the large amount of new scientific research showing that the health effects are more serious than previously thought (sounds familiar?)
The European Parliament has repeatedly called for a moratorium leading to a ban on use of DU weapons. The issue came before the UN First Committee in November, and it passed a resolution urging UN member states to re-examine the health hazards.
NAG wrote to David Milliband urging a UK re-examination. Like the Plutonium and Uranium discharged from Aldermaston, DU is an internal emitter – the potential for harm comes via inhalation or ingestion of radioactive alpha particles. What happens in the debate over DU has implications for our concerns over the alpha discharges from Aldermaston.
More on Low Level Radiation
Further evidence of the need to take a fresh look at low-level radiation health effects comes from two recent studies – one on the descendants of British n-test veterans, and a German one on under-5’s living near n-power stations.
The first study, conducted by Green Audit, studied Test veterans’ children and grandchildren for miscarriages, stillbirths, congenital illnesses and cancer, comparing results with descendants of unexposed controls. Miscarriages and stillbirths were higher by a factor of 2-3, cancers were not significantly higher, but birth defects were tenfold higher in children, and even in grandchildren over eight times higher. The findings applied to descendants of men who were not present at the tests but worked in the test zone between tests as much as to the men who were exposed to the actual blasts – the exposure pathway must therefore have been either inhalation of fallout or, as in the New Zealand study reported in our Summer ‘07 newsletter, drinking rainwater contaminated by fallout, or both, rather than external exposure.
The German Government study showed a 60% increased risk of cancer for children under 5 living within 5 km of a nuclear power plant, with an increase to 117% if leukaemia only was taken into account. The Environment Minister took the COMARE line – it couldn’t possibly be due to radiation, the levels of discharges were too low – evading the obvious conclusion that the problem might be that we are underestimating the effects of low doses.
In the search for a geological depository site, the newly-reconstituted CORWM may be putting the cart before the horse by consulting publicly on “voluntarism” – local communities being willing to host a depository in exchange for a help package – without having previously ruled out those parts of Britain which do not have the right sort of geological rock formations. This is the opinion of a waste expert from Glasgow University, Prof David Smythe. West Cumbria, for instance, might be willing, being already knee-deep in the nuclear industry, but has already been proven unsuitable.
CORWM’s consultation “Managing Radioactive Waste Safely” was endorsed by the Northern Ireland Assembly Government, conditionally supported by the Welsh Assembly, which reserved the right to have its own ideas about implementation proposals affecting Wales, and given a definitive thumbs down by the Scottish Executive – “If organisations or individuals in Scotland wish to respond to this consultation they may do so and UK Government will discuss these responses with the Scottish Executive through the appropriate devolution mechanisms”.
Plutonium remains outside these deliberations. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority says “Although it is a potential source of energy for future generations, it is currently regarded as a zero value asset. To declare it as waste would add several £billion to the cost of dealing with the nuclear legacy”. MoD owned plutonium will continue to be stored at Sellafield.
Lost again! This time it was in Scotland, and the convoy was on its way back to Burghfield last November with a cargo of nuclear warheads when the vehicles appear to have got separated, resulting in the followers going the wrong way and the decontamination equipment being miles away from the warheads.
Local Liaison Committee
Surprise surprise …. After due deliberation on the ponderous matter of whether NAG should or should not be represented on the AWE Local Liaison Committee, members agreed that the LLC is not an appropriate forum for non Local Authority organisations.
Secretary & Newsletter Editor: Evelyn Parker
16 Back Street