Action plan exposes difficulties in response to 2010 fire at AWE

An emergency planning action plan prepared by West Berkshire Council in the aftermath of the fire which took place in an explosives manufacturing facility at AWE Aldermaston in August 2010 has highlighted difficulties faced by emergency services in responding to the fire.

The action plan, provided to Nuclear Information Service by the Council in response to a Freedom of Information Act request (available to download below), identifies six areas where action was considered necessary to address problems in managing the emergency.

The plan reveals that “not all agencies were alerted” about the fire, and the emergency was not managed collectively as an off-site emergency in accordance with West Berkshire Council's inter-agency plan for radiation emergencies at AWE sites.  The plan has since been amended to cover all types of incidents, and call-out cascade arrangements have been revised.

Information about the fire was poorly communicated, and as a result “some agencies were not receiving the correct information – if at all”.  Different agencies had different information on the current situation and which roads had been closed.  Arrangements have been made to ensure that Bronze and Silver command posts are set up in the event of future emergencies, with clear command and control arrangements.

Emergency managers were not clear initially what the implications of the exclusion zone around the fire would have on areas outside the site boundary, from which householders were eventually evacuated as a precaution.  A “resource issue was identified with respect to road closures”, and the locations of road closures and resources available in the event of a future emergency have since been reviewed.  Further issues arose in notifying the Environment Agency about contaminated waste water from fire-fighting.

All the actions listed in the plan were scheduled to have been completed by March 2012, and West Berkshire Council has published a  revised version of the AWE Off Site Emergency Plan listing arrangements for dealing with a range of different types of incident at AWE sites.  

A decision is still awaited from the Health and Safety Executive on whether enforcement action will be taken against AWE in relation to the fire.

Download the action plan here: