THE emergency planning zone surrounding AWE Aldermaston is set to shrink, in a startling U-turn by a Government nuclear watchdog which earlier this year put the nuclear bomb factory under special safety measures.
Government watchdog the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) revealed it had revised the extent of the detailed emergency planning zone (DEPZ) around AWE’s Aldermaston site, where the country’s nuclear deterrent, Trident, is maintained.
The DEPZ is in place to ensure the swift evacuation of the area and roads surrounding AWE, in the event of any nuclear emergency.
Now, the regulator says there has been a reduction in the hazards and risks of a radiation emergency since its last determination – which defined an off-site planning area with a radius of 3km.
The revised off-site emergency planning area determined by ONR varies from 2km to 3.5km from the centre of the AWE site, and includes neighbouring villages of Aldermaston, Inhurst, Pamber Heath and the town of Tadley.
The change has resulted in some properties now falling within the revised DEPZ, which were not previously included.
Inhurst and Tadley will now fall entirely within the revised emergency planning area, while other (unspecified) areas are no longer included.
The move marks a surprising U-turn by the ONR, which in a February report revealed two safety incidents a month over the last three years at AWE Aldermaston, including the most serious recorded at any UK nuclear site since 2009.
Then, in July, the regulator placed AWE Aldermaston under regulatory safety measures for the fourth year in a row, due to ongoing concerns about ageing facilities.
AWE’s sister site in Burghfield was also placed under safety measures for the first time.
Also in July, Prime Minister Theresa May backed a move for the immediate renewal of the Trident programme, at an estimated cost of £205bn to taxpayers.
ONR programme director Donald Urquhart, said: “By applying our principles for determining off-site emergency planning areas in a proportionate manner, we believe that the revised Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations 2001 emergency planning area we have defined is in the best interests of securing public safety and for practical emergency planning.”
The move, said Mr Urquhart, was a result of work with West Berkshire Council, to whom the regulator had written, advising them of the decision.
The council will now revise its off-site emergency plan, in consultation with other emergency responders, and is legally obliged to complete this process within six months, according to the regulator.
Any longer period required would need the ONR’s written approval.