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UK Atomic Weapons Establishment complies with ONR radioactive waste improvement notice

01 November 2016

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has confirmed that the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Berkshire, west of London, has complied with an Improvement Notice served in July 2015 concerning the management of its Higher Active radioactive Waste (HAW).

Map of the environs of AWE  Aldermaston - Image: AWE
Map of the environs of AWE Aldermaston - Image: AWE

The Improvement Notice was served following AWE’s failure to demonstrate that its long-term strategy for managing HAW at Aldermaston reduced the risk to the health and safety of the public and employees as far as reasonably practicable, and required AWE to recommend options for how it will adequately control risk that could arise in the future from all current and predicted HAW.

AWE has now developed options for the management of HAW on the Aldermaston site which, if properly planned and implemented, will enable the risk to the health and safety of the public and employees to be reduced as far as reasonably practicable. In complying with the Improvement Notice, AWE has proposed activities that are focused on near term hazard reduction of the highest hazard waste packages and has committed to further demonstrate that the storage environment of the HAW inventory remains appropriate throughout the anticipated period of storage.

Further work is required to implement the options identified, and ONR’s regulatory focus will now turn to AWE’s implementation of a forward plan of work to ensure continued progress and timely delivery of the necessary hazard and risk reduction. ONR is satisfied that the current conditions under which the waste is stored are acceptable and do not give rise to significant risk to the public or the workforce.

Chief Nuclear Inspector Richard Savage said: “We are satisfied that AWE has made sufficient progress to meet the requirements of the Improvement Notice, which is part of our longer-term strategy aimed at securing safety improvements at AWE Aldermaston. The Aldermaston site continues to receive enhanced regulatory attention from ONR.”

ONR has also concluded that there has been a reduction in the hazards and risks of a radiation emergency since the last determination which defined an off-site planning area with a radius of 3 km. This has resulted in a decrease, overall, in the size of the emergency planning area atround the Aldermaston site.

The revised emergency planning area is where the loal planning authority, West Berkshire Council, is required to have an emergency plan in place to protect the public. The revised area now varies in distance from 2 km to 3.5 km from the centre of the site and includes the villages of Aldermaston, Inhurst, Pamber Heath and the town of Tadley.

Donald Urquhart, ONR Programme Director, said: “ONR inspectors have reviewed AWE Plc’s detailed evaluation of the radiation hazards and risks associated with the Aldermaston Nuclear Licensed Site, have compared it to the previous assessment, and have concluded that the risk of a radiation emergency has decreased.”

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