Page last updated at 18:57 GMT, Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Safety concerns over nuclear plan

Trident missile in flight
Aldermaston is responsible for making Britain's Trident nuclear warheads

Concerns have been raised over the safety of people living near a Berkshire site earmarked for a new nuclear warhead facility.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) wants to modernise the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE).

The Nuclear Awareness Group (NAG) said the site proposed at Burghfield was too close to the densely populated Reading area to be safe.

The MoD said: "The safety of operations at AWE is top priority."

AWE is responsible for the production of warheads for the Trident nuclear deterrent programme and its planned replacement.

Under the plan, a new main facility, support building with 16 lighting protector towers, gate houses, access roads and security fences would be constructed at the site.

More than 200,000 people live within five miles (8km) of the site.

NAG said the MoD had "refused to release any information about the risks the new factory would pose to the public and the environment, leaving local people in the dark about how much of a threat the nuclear operations conducted there would pose to their way of life".

'No threat posed'

The MoD said: "The site undergoes and passes regular safety inspections by an independent body, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate."

In a flood report for the plans it was stated some of the site was at risk from the Burghfield Brook and NAG said the plans would breach government guidelines on development in flood risk areas.

Peter Burt, NAG spokesman, said: "No commercial developer would ever be allowed to build a factory which handles explosives, radioactive materials, and hazardous chemicals in a flood risk zone, especially at a site on the outskirts of one of the biggest urban areas in the South of England.

The MoD said: "At no time during, or as a consequence of, the extreme weather conditions experienced on 20 July 2007 was there any threat to the operational safety of either AWE Aldermaston or Burghfield and no threat to the public or the environment was posed.

"A comprehensive "review learn and improve assessment" programme was completed by AWE following the flooding.

"The recommendations are being implemented to ensure continued safety of the sites is maintained should further extreme weather conditions be experienced."

The group is calling for a public inquiry into the plans and is presenting a report with its arguments to West Berkshire District Council, which will consider the plan on 4 March.

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