Richard Willis's Blog

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AWE Aldermaston Liaison Committee Meeting – March 2010

One of the more interesting tasks of being a Councillor is the responsibilities outside of the Council itself. As I have blogged before, I sit on the Local Liaison Committee (LLC) of the Atomic Weapons Establishment based at Aldermaston and Burghfield. The majority of members of the liaison committee are members of the surrounding Parish Councils. However, there are a small number of Borough level Councillors and Reading has two nominees. We are appointed to represent Reading people and their interests in respect of the two establishments. I do that by meeting with and reporting back to one or two local interest group representatives. Unfortunately the second RBC nominee is Whitley Labour Councillor Jim Hanley. In his year as an RBC appointee he has not managed to attend a single meeting of the Liaison Committee.

The most recent meeting of the LLC was yesterday (Thursday 25 March) at AWE Aldermaston. We received a series of reports and then had a questions session with representatives of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.

January was a good month with a very low level of injuries and accidents on site but February had seen a marked rise in minor injury and  accidents. Management put this down to people taking extra care during the period of heavy snow and then being a bit complacent when the snow melted. More worryingly AWE had received a warning letter from the Environment Agency (EA) in February resulting from an elevated pH reading at its outfall into Burghfield Brook. The readings have since returned to the normal range.

Also of some concern was a report on Radioactivity in Food and the Environment (RIFE) which identified elevated levels of Gamma radiation on the banks of the Thames at Pangbourne and Mapledurham. AWE management explained that whilst elevated these were within normal tolerances and were not necessarily emanating from AWE. A number of industrial and medical sources used radioactive material and could be the source. Nothing in the RIFE report proved a link to AWE. Worthy of note was that the EA had issued a positive audit response to AWE’s Site Waste Management Plan.

The site had suffered larger than usual protests on 15 February and at one point all gates to the site had been briefly blocked. Discussions were ongoing with Thames Valley Police to ensure that in the event of future protests one or more key gates would be kept open by Police.

We received a briefing on the new “Pegasus” building project and how an enclave was to be created to allow workers easier site access without compromising security for the working part of the rest of the site. Up to 1,000 construction workers were expected to be involved in the project at its peak.

A planning submission was expected to be sent to West Berkshire Council at the end of May for the new “Hydrus” hydro-dynamics building. It would be built on an area 14,000 square metres. Meetings had been held with English Heritage due to the fact that the new building would be not far from the Manor House and some changes had been made at English Heritage’s suggestion. The building would have 8 lightning protection towers that would be 40m high. However, very little would be visible from the Manor House.

At the end of the meeting one of the Parish Councillors asked whether there was any news about MoD plans to use existing nuclear sites to store nuclear waste and therefore whether waste would be stored at either of the AWE sites. We were told that an assessment was still underway and that LLC members would be updated once a decision was made. Clearly many people may have concerns if this was to be the case.

If any readers have any questions about AWE or this meeting report, let me know and I will endeavour to answer.


March 26, 2010 - Posted by | Local, National

1 Comment »

  1. Hello Richard,

    Thanks very much for posting this very informative report. I only wish other members of the Local Liaison Committee were as conscientious at providing feedback on these meetings. Thanks, too, for giving an honest account which balances the positives and the negatives.

    I know that Reading Borough Council have shown an interest in recent AWE planning applications, despite a disappointing lack of consultation by West Berkshire. I hope RBC will be able to make relevant comments on the forthcoming Project Hydrus planning application.

    It was interesting to read of the committee’s concern about the possible storage of military radioactive waste at AWE sites. As you say, this is a sensitive issue which will need to be addressed carefully by the Ministry of Defence. Unfortunately the issue of radioactive waste is a legacy problem which we have no option but to deal with. Nevertheless, the highest standards in transparency and public engagement will be required in any public debate on suitable storage sites for this waste.

    I know Richard Benyon recently met MoD staff to discuss this matter – perhaps he could tell us a little more about what is planned?

    Best wishes,


    Comment by Peter | March 26, 2010 | Reply

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