Ministry of Defence proposals to build a new Enriched Uranium Facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston could pose potential hazards to the public from a radioactive fire or a critical release of radiation – but NAG considers that not enough information about the development has been provided to enable these risks to be properly evaluated.
West Berkshire Council is expected to decide in February whether to grant planning permission to the Ministry of Defence for construction of a new Enriched Uranium Facility at Aldermaston.
However, NAG has concluded there is insufficient information about the proposed new facility to allow members of the public and the Council's planning committee to make an informed decision on whether or not it should be built. The group has prepared a technical report to present its arguments to West Berkshire Council (copy available for download below), which advises that:
Enriched uranium is a radioactive, toxic, and pyrophoric (able to combust spontaneously) metal, and an accident leading to a fire causing dispersion of enriched uranium could pose a threat to public safety.
As enriched uranium is a fissile material, there is also the risk of a criticality accident, leading to an uncontrolled release of radiation.
The new facility would generate wastes contaminated with uranium which would be classified as intermediate level radioactive waste. As yet the United Kingdom has no strategy for the disposal of radioactive wastes, which would have to be stored on site at Aldermaston indefinitely.
AWE appears to have made no effort to engage in dialogue on the planning application with the site's neighbours, local communities, or the wider public, and key information needed to assess the safety and environmental impacts of the new facility has been withheld on security grounds. It is therefore not possible for members of the public or local councils to know whether adequate precautions have been taken to address the potential risks from the new facility.
NAG considers that, before planning permission is granted, the Ministry of Defence should provide information about the risks posed by operations at the Enriched Uranium Facility and countermeasures to address these risks. The decision on whether to grant planning permission for the new warhead facility should be made at a public inquiry, where the technical evidence can be examined impartially – if necessary with secret sessions to discuss sensitive material.
Download a copy of NAG's objection to West Berkshire Council here: