AWE sites proposed for nuclear submarine radioactive waste dump

The two Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites in Berkshire have been included on a secret shortlist of sites where the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is thinking of dumping radioactive waste from defunct nuclear powered submarines, according to an authoritative report in a Scottish newspaper.

A report in the 'Sunday Herald' newspaper by journalist Rob Edwards, who specialises in researching news stories on nuclear issues, states that the AWE sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield have been identified by the MoD as potential locations for dumping radioactive scrap from nuclear powered submarines which are no longer in service.

The two AWE sites have been included in a provisional list of 12 locations for the waste storage sites, alongside naval nuclear bases and civil nuclear facilities.

Fifteen boats have been retired from service by the Navy since its first nuclear powered submarine entered service in 1963, and are currently moored at naval dockyards at Rosyth in Scotland and Devonport at Plymouth. Each submarine contains a reactor compartment which is about the size of two double-decker buses and is heavily contaminated with radioactivity. The submarines and their reactor compartments would be dismantled and the scrap then placed in storage at one or more of the sites on the MoD shortlist.

The submarines are awaiting a decision on decommissioning methods from the MoD before they can be dismantled. The Ministry's submarine dismantling project, which was established in 1998, has spent over ten years discussing this problem and is still unable to identify a way forward.

Peter Burt, Director of the Reading based Nuclear Information Service, said: “Most people don't realise that, as well as manufacturing nuclear weapons, AWE also acts as a nuclear dump site for much of the military radioactive waste that it produces.

There has always been public concern about safety and environmental issues at AWE, and radioactive waste, because of its toxicity and the long timescales for which it remains active, is a particularly controversial issue.

Even the most enthusiastic supporter of nuclear weapons is likely to have concerns about transporting large quantities of radioactive waste across the country and dumping them on local communities here in Berkshire.

This is yet another toxic legacy from a previous generation of unwise policy decisions, and it shows that, far from guaranteeing our security, nuclear weapons and nuclear submarines increase the risks we face.”

Read the Newbury Today coverage of the story here.