Newletter Winter 2006


NAG Newsletter Winter 2006

DIARY DATE : Tuesday January 2nd



at the Civic Centre, Reading, 7pm


If you usually debate an issue first, and make recommendations to be voted on afterwards, this is not the way the contentious issue of replacing Trident is being handled. It has been obvious to anyone observing what is happening on the ground and at the West Berkshire Council's Planning Committee meetings, that AWE have not been preparing for a possibility that the decision might be to stop manufacturing new warheads.

This is not good news for people living locally. We face radioactive discharges for the foreseeable future, and life in the vicinity of a nuclear waste store of ever-increasing proportions. Oh yes, of course there will be jobs, but imagine what constructive projects those brains could have been put to....all that expertise and money ....they could be working on weapons verification, on helping the whole world to sort out the nuclear mess it has got itself into, and on leading us forward into a safer future with technology that is for human survival on this planet.


Since 1952, the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories in California, doing work similar to that of Aldermaston, has been managed by a consortium of the Bechtel Corporation and the University of California, under a "no bid" contract. After repeated security and financial scandals, the U.S. Congress decided to open up the contract to competition, with a closing date of October. As at October only two bids had been declared - The same partnership and a new Green Consortium consisting of the New College of California and three environmental groups, one of which is Tri-Valley Cares, the local citizen group which has been doing the same sort of work as NAG (only better!)

What are they offering?

" Our bid will promote world-class science by transforming Livermore Lab from a nuclear weapons design facility into a center for civilian science. By focussing on socially-beneficial scientific initiatives like sustainable energy, global warming and environmental cleanup, our bid will increase cutting edge research at the Lab and provide the greatest degree of genuine security proposed by any management team"


"Livermore Lab, located in a world-class wind resource area, with ample solar resources, boasts an unrivalled team of scientists, coupled with state-of-the-art equipment and support. Therefore, Livermore Lab is uniquely situated to play a leading role in research, development and testing of renewable energy resources."

The President of New College added "The role of academic institutions in science should not be to create weapons of mass destruction, but rather to seek sustainable solutions for humankind."


In November AWE submitted their first planning application to West Berkshire Council since loss of Crown Immunity. It is for new office accommodation - about 21 thousand cubic metres of it - plus a car park for 1,500 vehicles and a whole batch of extras for the construction phase - access road, various temporary buildings, and a car park for construction workers capable of taking 550 vehicles.

This is a massive new development and reflects an expectation of a substantial increase in the workforce. There has been much speculation as to why this is needed, when ostensibly all that is happening is that the current nuclear weapons system, Trident, is being kept on the go, and ageing facilities are being replaced. There can no longer be much doubt that preparations for replacing Trident in due course are well under way at AWE despite protestations that no decision has been reached.

NAG has submitted an objection to the application. Our main grounds were traffic-related. The proposal envisages only two routes for construction traffic, the A340 in both directions, i.e. north through Aldermaston Village (70%), and south through Tadley (30%). This would go on for about two years, rendering the lives of the residents of Aldermaston Village a misery, and in addition there would be the vehicles of the construction workers plus the occasional nuclear convoy. To add to villagers joys, AWE are considering relocating the main entrance to the existing West Gate (Calleva Roundabout) "to improve traffic flows". Not surprisingly, Aldermaston Parish Council have also sent in an objection, asking that construction traffic not be allowed to go through the village at all.

We have raised our usual concerns about possible contamination of soil and groundwater - substantial amounts of soil would be disturbed and moved around. We note from the Environmental Statement which accompanied the application, which incidentally is far more comprehensive than recent efforts, that radiological risk assessments have not yet been done. Also yet to be done are the environmental studies needed to evaluate the possibility of loss of grassland resulting in flooding off-site in the Paices Hill area. We therefore contend that it is not possible for interested p[arties, including the Planning Committee, to properly evaluate this proposal.

We hope to have an opportunity to address the Committee, but the normal routine is for all objectors to be given five minutes between them to say their piece. The target date for the Committee meeting is the end of January.


Paices Hill

The proposed project to build 237 homes on what used to be the Banger Racing Track off the A340 at Paices Hill is going to Public Inquiry as a result of appeal by the developers against West Berks Council's refusal of planning permission. We are interested in the progress of this Inquiry, which may well touch on matters which concern us, such as emergency procedures and use of potentially contaminated land outside the wire. NAG therefore needs to try and have a presence on each day of the hearing.

The Inquiry will take place at the Council Chambers, Newbury, over six days in February - 6th, 7th, 8th,9th ,13th and 14th, sessions starting at 10am

If you are able to attend one or more of the sessions, please could you contact Di McDonald on 02380 554434, email

Kennet Valley Park

At our last meeting we discussed the proposal for 7,500 houses to be built just across the M4 from AWE Burghfield - a whole new village, complete with schools, health centres, amazing recreational facilities....NAG sent in objections largely based around the proximity of the proposal to the evacuation zone from Burghfield. We have been advised that the application has been withdrawn, but would not be surprised if it re-emerges in altered form in the future.


The Government has published its acceptance of CoRWM's recommendations for dealing with High and Intermediate level radioactive waste. The three main recommendations were

  • Geological burial is the preferred long-term option, with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) incorporating Nirex and taking responsibility for the programme. NDA only functions in the civil sector.
  • This would take several decades, and in the meantime the waste would have to be stored on an interim basis as near as possible to the site of production. Security is regulated by the Office for Civil Nuclear Security. The design of new stores will allow for a period of interim storage of at least 100 years, avoiding the need for future re-packaging.
  • Siting of the long-term "geological disposal facility" (or facilities) will be achieved by "voluntarism". This means that host communities will be helped to agree to the siting on their doorstep by partnership deals and "benefit packages".

Illogical as it may seem, the separation of civil and military waste management is set to continue. Certain products - uranium, spent nuclear fuel and plutonium from reprocessing exist in large quantities but are not regarded as waste. This is under review by the NDA, with a view to possibly changing the strategy. What about military stocks, much of which are stored at Aldermaston? The MoD will also produce a similar strategy, working with the NDA but not together.


One of our ongoing concerns has always been that the Plutonium particles which AWE are allowed to discharge into the air can be inhaled by people in the vicinity, or ingested by people or animals if they land on vegetation.

The horrendous story of the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with Polonium 210 has introduced the public to the concept of the internal emitter which can be fatal in minute quantities if ingested or inhaled, but can be contained in a paper or plastic bag.

It took days for Polonium 210 to be diagnosed as the poison (AWE scientists contributed to the discovery). Perhaps if the ICRP and Health Protection Agency were a bit more willing to admit the possibility that the risk assessment models they are using just might be inadequate, internal radiation poisoning might have been considered earlier.


We sometimes glean news of incidents on site either from minutes of the Local Liaison Committee or from the quarterly reports of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. For instance, a fire in May in a transformer in the power supply unit for the HELEN laser took 20 minutes to extinguish, and a sounding of the Criticality Alarm in April turned out to be due to excessive vibrations during maintenance work nearby setting the alarm off.


One should always be cautious about eating wild mushrooms, but it might be a good idea to exercise extra caution if they are growing in an area which still suffers from Chernobyl contamination.

The Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority has found unusually high levels of radioactivity still from Chernobyl in sheep, and has put this down to an unusually large crop of mushrooms, which were more plentiful than usual because of wet weather. Previous research has shown that fungi take up more radioactivity from the soil than do grasses or other plants.


The MoD has recently launched a £10 million "Competition of Ideas" programme. This is a new initiative to try to stimulate R&D in areas of interest to the military. The competition is open to any organisation and is 100% funded. The closing date is 31st January 07.

As Aldermaston gears up for a fresh batch of work on Trident replacement, perhaps a project for growing mushrooms on site to extract the radioactivity from the soil would be a good idea.