AWE Aldermaston chiefs say they will disclose fire inquiry

Basingstoke Gazette: Red Lane was closed by police during the fire Red Lane was closed by police during the fire

A REPORT into the 11-hour fire at an explosives facility at AWE in Aldermaston is to be made public.

The fire started in a building in the non-nuclear explosives manufacturing section of the site at about 9pm yesterday.

AWE manufactures and maintains warheads for the UK’s nuclear deterrent on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.

Fire crews from the complex and six crews from the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service were called to tackle the fire, which was out by 8am this morning. One male worker from AWE Aldermaston sustained minor injuries.

AWE has now announced it will commission an independent inquiry. The results will be sent to local authority members as well as the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, which is part of the Health and Safety Executive.

Robin McGill, chief executive at AWE said: “We will make our findings public by briefing the AWE Local Liaison Committee which is made up of representatives of local authorities in Hampshire and Berkshire.”

He said he wanted to thank Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue for tackling the blaze alongside AWE’s own fire crew who showed “great professionalism”.

He also wanted to thank the local people who were evacuated from their homes because of the incident.

“Our emergency response procedures worked well and although we were confident there was no risk to the public, this routine precaution was taken to ensure the welfare and safety of our immediate neighbours,” he said.

Earlier in the day a spokesman for AWE said: “A full investigation into the causes of the incident, which has no radiological implications, will be undertaken. The Ministry of Defence and AWE’s regulators have been informed.”

While the fire crews tackled the blaze, 14 residents of Red Lane, which borders the northern end of the site, were evacuated to the Aldermaston Manor hotel or the Apollo Hotel in Basingstoke.

They were allowed to return to their homes by 10am this morning.

Ministry of Defence Police also set up a 600-metre cordon around the affected building, which effectively closed Red Lane from its junctions with Spring Lane and Raghill.

By midday , the cordon had been reduced to 300 metres within the site perimeter, opening Red Lane to traffic.

Councillor David Shirt said he had been chairing a meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council in the parish hall, in Paices Hill, at around 9pm on Tuesday when the drama started.

He told The Gazette: “We saw all these flashing lights going up the hill and we wondered what was going on. We knew it was big because there were more than half a dozen emergency vehicles going up the road.”

Inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive have been on site today as part of their own inquiry into the fire.

Critics of nuclear weapons were quick to call for an independent inquiry into the incident.

Peter Burt, director of the Nuclear Information Service, said: “AWE handles radioactive materials, explosives and hazardous chemicals, and despite extensive safety precautions on the site this incident shows that accidents can and do happen.

“There is no room for complacency and Tuesday night’s accident is a reminder that AWE poses considerable risks to local communities.”

Comments (2)

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9:18pm Wed 4 Aug 10

Ricecracker says...

It doesn't sound to me at all like AWE will be disclosing the results of their independent inquiry. It seems like the Local Liaison Committee are the only people who will be told about it. The Liaison Committee meetings are not open to the public or media, just a small group of about 20 local councillors who never pass on any information about what happens at these meetings.

Maybe if the Liaison Committee had been a little more vigilant and enquiring the circumstances that led to this accident may have been avoided.

And just who is going to conduct this independent inquiry? If it is one of AWE's usual contractors, then it won't be independent at all. The inquiry must be conducted by the Health and Safety Executive, with the results made public to everyone, or it will just be another AWE white-wash.
It doesn't sound to me at all like AWE will be disclosing the results of their independent inquiry. It seems like the Local Liaison Committee are the only people who will be told about it. The Liaison Committee meetings are not open to the public or media, just a small group of about 20 local councillors who never pass on any information about what happens at these meetings. Maybe if the Liaison Committee had been a little more vigilant and enquiring the circumstances that led to this accident may have been avoided. And just who is going to conduct this independent inquiry? If it is one of AWE's usual contractors, then it won't be independent at all. The inquiry must be conducted by the Health and Safety Executive, with the results made public to everyone, or it will just be another AWE white-wash. Ricecracker
  • Score: 0

11:19am Thu 5 Aug 10

kaytabernacle says...

This is an unprecedented low point in the disastrous safety history of the incompetent AWEplc, but it seems they're going be allowed to investigate themselves.

Are AWEplc going to pay the costs of this potentially catastrophic failure, which led to the evacuation of nearby residents, or will it be covered, like the flooding at AWE Burghfield by non-nuclear indemnity?

The HSE should investigate and suspend the site license until it can be shown that AWEplc are capable of running the site safely. There have been at least two previous fires under the present management's watch (that have been made public).

The HSE should prosecute Serco, Lockheed and Jacobs Engineering if it is shown that mis-management of the site put lives at risk.

AWE should stop whatever work they were doing that led to this fire immediately, so that the accident can be fully investigated by the regulators, before something worse happens.

It is astounding that the people who had responsibility for safety on site when this unprecedented fire in an explosives area at a nuclear weapons facility took place can tell the regulators and the public they will inform them of the results of an investigation. The MoD and the regulators should be telling AWEplc that they will inform them of the results, and whether anyone is to face prosecution and whether the contract to run the site will be ended early.

AWEML's suitability to manage the site has be put into doubt, but what processes are in place to take over the site? Do we have to wait until a major disaster occurs causing loss of life?
This is an unprecedented low point in the disastrous safety history of the incompetent AWEplc, but it seems they're going be allowed to investigate themselves. Are AWEplc going to pay the costs of this potentially catastrophic failure, which led to the evacuation of nearby residents, or will it be covered, like the flooding at AWE Burghfield by non-nuclear indemnity? The HSE should investigate and suspend the site license until it can be shown that AWEplc are capable of running the site safely. There have been at least two previous fires under the present management's watch (that have been made public). The HSE should prosecute Serco, Lockheed and Jacobs Engineering if it is shown that mis-management of the site put lives at risk. AWE should stop whatever work they were doing that led to this fire immediately, so that the accident can be fully investigated by the regulators, before something worse happens. It is astounding that the people who had responsibility for safety on site when this unprecedented fire in an explosives area at a nuclear weapons facility took place can tell the regulators and the public they will inform them of the results of an investigation. The MoD and the regulators should be telling AWEplc that they will inform them of the results, and whether anyone is to face prosecution and whether the contract to run the site will be ended early. AWEML's suitability to manage the site has be put into doubt, but what processes are in place to take over the site? Do we have to wait until a major disaster occurs causing loss of life? kaytabernacle
  • Score: 0

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