Safety inspectors put Berkshire nuclear weapons factory under special measures for fourth year running

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AWE Nuclear Licensed Site

The factory where the UK's nuclear weapons are manufactured will require "an enhanced level of regulatory attention" for the fourth year running because of a failure to improve safety performance, says the government's nuclear safety regulator.

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston is one of a number of Ministry of Defence (MoD) nuclear sites scheduled for enhanced attention, due to shortages of skilled personnel, ageing plant, and delays in building new facilities.

AWE Aldermaston is listed as a safety priority in an assessment published by the Office for Nuclear Regulator (ONR) as part of its Annual Report for 2015/16. There are 36 nuclear sites in the UK and Aldermaston is one of only seven which will require an increased level of regulation from ONR over the year ahead. AWE's other nuclear site, Burghfield has also been added to the enhanced regulation list this year, meaning that safety issues at the site have increased.

AWE Aldermaston was first placed under special measures by ONR in 2013. At the time ONR stated that the sites were "expected to receive enhanced regulatory attention for around two years, as we anticipate the issues to be resolved during that time". However, AWE plc, the company that operates the site on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, has been unable to deliver the expected safety improvements.

The AWE Aldermaston site is currently the subject of an enforcement notice from ONR for failings over radioactive waste management, and because construction of new buildings necessary for improving safety standards is lagging behind schedule.

David Cullen of Nuclear Information Service said:   "The fact that Aldermaston has been under special measures for twice as long as originally intended shows that the company running AWE are simply not up to the job of running the site to meet the standards the regulator and the public expect.

"Plenty of money is being spent at AWE: last month Nuclear Information Service published a report which showed that £1 billion of public money is being spent at AWE every year. Instead of being spent to improve safety, this money is being spent on developing more powerful weapons of mass destruction.

"The Ministry of Defence (MOD) reviewed its contract with the company that runs AWE earlier this year, but unlike other failing nuclear contractors, the current company was allowed to remain in charge. The obvious conclusion is that the MOD is more interested in keeping costs low than removing a failing contractor and improving public safety. The company have been given years to improve safety standards but have failed miserably in doing so."

The full report can be found on the ONR website