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AWE criticised after radioactive substance found in Aldermaston stream
THE Atomic Weapons Establishment has been criticised after a radioactive substance was found in Aldermaston Stream.
AWE was served with a formal warning letter by the Environment Agency following the detection of increased levels of tritium – a radioactive form of hydrogen – in the stream.
It has emerged this week that the warning letter was sent in August after investigations were conducted to establish why unusual levels of tritium had been detected in the North Ponds drainage system at the AWE Aldermaston site.
The North Ponds discharge effluent into the Aldermaston Stream, which flows into the River Kennet.
It was found that tritium levels rose after AWE turned off a ventilation fan in a radioactive waste storage unit during modification works. Tritium gas released from the unit was washed into the stream from surface water caused by rainfall.
Levels of the substance in North Ponds increased between November 2012 and March 2013, but had returned to previous levels in July and August after AWE turned the ventilation fan back on.
The low levels of the substance did not represent an environmental hazard but the Environment Agency said AWE had not adequately assessed the environmental impact of the modification works.
Peter Burt, director of Nuclear Information Service, said AWE should be more open about its safety performance.
He said: “This is the second case within 12 months where a government agency has had to take enforcement action against AWE because of failures in management arrangements.
“AWE puts a lot of effort into creating the image that it is a super-efficient company that doesn't make mistakes, but regularly occurring problems at Aldermaston show that things can and do go wrong.
“News of this incident has only leaked out months after the event itself and AWE did nothing to inform local members of the public about the matter.
“The company should be more honest about its safety and environmental performance and must keep local communities informed about incidents that take place at its sites”.
AWE said in a statement that it would review some of its processes, adding: “These heightened levels are still very low and pose no health threat.
“They are very much lower than the World Health Organisation guidance for tritium in drinking water.
“While there is no danger to the public or the environment, we accept there is a need for the company to review some of its processes.”
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