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AWE served with two improvement notices  by nuclear watchdog

Concerns about safety and licence compliance at two sites

Jane Meredith

Reporter:

Jane Meredith

AWE Aldermaston, AWE, Atomic Weapons Establishment

AWE has been served with notices to improve safety on several management documentation processes regarding safety at nuclear establishments in Burghfield and Aldermaston.

Nuclear watchdog the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) this month served improvement notices on AWE, which maintains and manufactures the UK’s nuclear deterrent, Trident.

The two notices, issued to AWE’s Aldermaston and Burghfield sites, relate to a series of shortfalls identified during inspections, according to the ONR. 

The notices require a formal improvement plan to be agreed between AWE and the regulator within defined timescales, for changes in systems management documentation regarding safety at both sites.  

Chief nuclear inspector Dr Richard Savage said: “We are concerned that AWE has not established and implemented an adequate process for the control of changes to management system documentation that supports compliance with nuclear site licence requirements. 

“While not posing an immediate safety risk, we want to see sustained improvements in order to maintain the multiple levels of defence in depth that we expect from all our nuclear site licensees.”

AWE recently stated the company aimed to improve on all aspects of operations and processes and would be implementing an improved process for management system documentation. 

“The aim is for this to be in place in line with the improvement notice timeline and AWE will continue to work with ONR to monitor progress to ensure successful close-out of the actions required,” it said.

“We will also continue to work closely with the ONR to strengthen dialogue and understanding and to ensure we continue to deliver on our regulatory responsibilities.

“Delivering safe and secure operations remains the core priority for AWE.”

In February last year, an independent report by the ONR revealed an average of two safety incidents a month over the last three years at AWE’s Aldermaston site – including the most serious recorded at any UK nuclear site since 2009.

The report listed 3,866 ‘unintended’ events at UK nuclear sites, 311 of which took place at sites involved in the MoD’s nuclear weapons and submarine programme. Of these 311, by far the largest number – 137 – took place at AWE Aldermaston.

The most serious incident, in 2012, the discovery of corrosion in structural steelwork, resulted in the closure of the secret A45 building that makes enriched uranium components for nuclear warheads and fuel for nuclear submarines.

A further 22 cases involved the breach of plant operating rules, limits or conditions, three cases where personnel received an intake or suspected intake of radioactive material and two fires.

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