Safety fears may halt the assembly of Britain’s nuclear warheads unless sweeping improvements are made soon, it has emerged. The Office for Nuclear Regulation has ordered immediate safety changes to be made at the UK’s nuclear warhead assembly facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Burghfield, in Berkshire, its annual report reveals. The ONR warns that, even with the changes, operations at the Berkshire site will be allowed to continue only for a limited period. If enough progress is not made in reducing safety risks at the top-secret facility, the regulator has said, operations may need to stop completely – a move that could have serious consequences for equipping the submarine fleet with nuclear weapons. In its report, the ONR warned that both Burghfield and its sister site, AWE Aldermaston, continued “to rely on the use of ageing production facilities in an environment of uncertainty on scope and delivery timescales for modern standard replacements”. It said it expected AWE to continue its work on improving safety while it was subject to “an enhanced level of attention” and that it would allow “operations in the short term subject to the implementation of the most significant upgrades”. But it warned: “We will reconsider this decision if AWE fails to deliver these key upgrades.” The ONR recently announced it was keeping both of AWE’s Aldermaston and Burghfield plants in “special measures” – for a sixth consecutive year in the case of Aldermaston and the third for Burghfield. The watchdog has taken enforcement action five times at AWE since 2016, including over the failure to plan for dealing with 5,000 drums of nuclear waste stored at Aldermaston.
Observer 5th Aug 2018 read more »