Plans to construct a new flood defence scheme for the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Burghfield are long overdue, according to the Nuclear Awareness Group (NAG).
The Reading-based group, which works to promote public awareness of nuclear safety and environmental issues related to the Atomic Weapons Establishment, is worried that, despite warnings, local planners have allowed new build to go ahead in the flood risk area at the factory, and are not addressing the root cause of flooding problems at the AWE site.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has recently submitted a planning application to West Berkshire Council requesting permission to build flood defences for the factory, which has a history of flooding.
The AWE Burghfield site, where the UK's Trident nuclear warheads are assembled and disassembled, is situated in low-lying ground and the Burghfield Brook stream runs through the site.
In July 2007 severe flooding at AWE Burghfield came close to overwhelming the site, resulting in a ‘near miss’ event and causing long-term disruption to nuclear weapons manufacturing. Floodwater rose to a depth of 2 feet - lifting drain covers, cutting off one facility on the site, and affecting a total of 84 buildings. Following the flood live warhead work was suspended for nine months while the site was cleaned up at a cost to the taxpayer of £5 million.
Since 2007 emergency flood defences have been deployed at AWE Burghfield roughly twice a year on average following bad weather warnings.
A planning application was submitted to West Berkshire Council by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) earlier this month seeking permission for construction of an upstream flood storage area on land to the south of the AWE site, bunding to prevent floodwater innundation, and a pumping station.
The Burghfield Brook will be widened where it passes through land owned by the MoD, and a newly constructed high-flow channel will be designed to accommodate water from a 1 in 200 year six hour storm.
The scheme is expected to take approximately eight months to construct.
Evelyn Parker, Secretary of the Nuclear Awareness Group said:
“NAG has consistently warned of the risks posed by a nuclear site situated in a flood risk area.
“It has long been known that there is a history of flooding at AWE Burghfield. Soon after taking over management of the Atomic Weapons Establishment in 2000, AWE plc investigated whether to close the Burghfield site and transfer all nuclear operations to Aldermaston. It would have been possible to do this, but AWE plc concluded that it would be more lucrative to keep both sites open despite the flood risks.
“The chickens came home to roost in 2007 when AWE Burghfield was badly flooded, and the taxpayer ended up footing a hefty bill for AWE's complacency.
“It was a big surprise, to say the least, when AWE requested permission to build a new warhead assembly building at Burghfield in 2008. Despite the events of the year before AWE told West Berkshire Council that flood risks were under control and the new development would not be vulnerable to flooding. West Berkshire's Planning Committee accepted this and allowed construction to go ahead.
“Seven years later AWE has finally conceded that flooding is a problem at Burghfield and that a new flood defence scheme is needed to protect the site.
“NAG welcomes this belated acceptance of the flood problems at Burghfield, and will not be objecting to the planning application for the scheme. Better late than never.
“However, we can't help feeling that the best solution of all to the problem would be to stop building nuclear weapons at Burghfield”.