Saturday, 7 August 2010

Fire at Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston

4 August, 2010, 20:42

The Nuclear Information Service (NIS) has written to the Health and Safety Executive calling for an independent inquiry into a fire which broke out last night at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston.

The fire broke out in a building described by AWE as a 'concrete bunker' within the explosives area of the site at around 21.00 last night (3rd August). The fire blazed for four hours before being extinguished by firefighters from the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, assisted by AWE's own on-site firefighting teams. AWE has stated that there were “no radiological implications” as a result of the fire, but a number of local residents were evacuated from their homes to overnight hotel accommodation.

AWE report that one member of staff was injured in the blaze, and road closures in the area following the fire caused traffic chaos during the Wednesday morning rush-hour.

The fire occurred in the explosives area of the Aldermaston site, where there is a risk that a 'domino effect' of explosives igniting each other can lead to a rapid spread of fire. It raises questions about regulatory standards at AWE, where a number of operations are not regulated by the Health and Safety

Executive but are instead controlled by the Ministry of Defence itself through a secretive process of internal regulation.

Peter Burt, Director of the Reading-based Nuclear Information Service said
“The incident was serious enough to need six fire appliances to fight it and caused local residents to be evacuated and local roads cordoned off. It seems that we came within a hair's breadth of everyone's nightmare scenario.

“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 last night's accident is a reminder that AWE poses considerable risks to local communities.

“We wish to see a full independent inquiry held to investigate this incident as soon as possible. The results of the inquiry must be made public so that local people can see that lessons have been learnt and that their safety is AWE's number one priority.”

You can read a copy of NIS's letter to the Health and Safety Executive on our website at