AWE Burghfield planning permission conditional on HSE approval

West Berkshire Council's Eastern Area Planning Committee has agreed to renew planning permission for a Conventional Manufacturing Facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Burghfield – but only on condition that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) confirms that it has no objections to the development on nuclear safety grounds in the light of the Fukushima nuclear accident.

The Committee met on Wednesday evening (6 April 2011) to discuss the planning application for the new facility, which was originally granted planning permission in 2008 but has been resubmitted as AWE has yet to commence building work on the project.  Planning officers told the Committee that permission for the development should be renewed unless any new considerations or changes to policy had emerged since it had been granted.

Objectors to the development argued that the accident at the Fukushima nuclear complex in Japan had led to changed circumstances which the committee should consider.  The Health and Safety Executive has been asked by ministers to conduct a review of the UK nuclear industry to learn lessons in the light of the Fukushima accident, and the head of HSE's Office for Nuclear Regulation has said that the review will be comprehensive and wide in scope, and that it will consider the approach to nuclear safety and security regulation in the UK.  The objectors argued that the Planning Committee should not make a decision on the application until the review has been completed.

Committee members were reluctant to delay their decision but eventually agreed to write to the Health and Safety Executive to establish whether or not the Executive was still content for the development to go ahead and make planning permission conditional on a satisfactory response.  As Committee Chair Councillor Brian Bedwell said, this will put the onus for making a decision on the Health and Safety Executive rather than the Committee.

NIS Director Peter Burt said: “Rather than pass the buck back to the Health and Safety Executive I would liked to have seen the Planning Committee take a more assertive stand on nuclear safety.

“The nuclear safety regime adopted in the UK is exactly the same as that used in Japan, so the government is absolutely right to order a review of the implications of the Fukushima accident for the UK nuclear industry.  Nuclear developments in the UK should be put on hold until the review has been completed and its recommendations published”.