'Nationalise' safety at nuclear plant, say MPs

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Labour MPs last night called for safety to be "nationalised" at Britain's nuclear weapons plant after a report highlighted alleged breaches of safety by private contractors at the Aldermaston site in Berkshire.

Labour MPs last night called for safety to be "nationalised" at Britain's nuclear weapons plant after a report highlighted alleged breaches of safety by private contractors at the Aldermaston site in Berkshire.

John Prescott, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, will be urged by Labour backbenchers take the responsibility for safety from Hunting Brae, the contractors who run Aldermaston, after MPs saw a dossier of 100 alleged breaches.

"[Safety] must be put in a public agency under the Department of Environment with an overriding instruction that places open public accountability ahead of defence sector secrecy," said Alan Simpson, a Labour MP who has tabled hundreds of Commons questions about the plant's safety.

The management contract for the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston, where Britain's nuclear warheads are made, is under review. Some Labour MPS want it returned to state control, but are wary of handing it to the more secretive Ministry of Defence.

The Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive are allowed access to the site but a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament dossier said seven incidents were not recorded in the official list.

The CND report said that the site's groundwater was contaminated, the AWE was illegally discharging tritium water into a stream; and workers were boycotting an area where there had been leaks of plutonium stores.

This weekend there were fresh claims of lax safety at Aldermaston, including cases where workers may have been contaminated. A report in The Observer said only luck prevented large parts of Reading being wiped out in 1993 when uranium shavings were found in an oil tank beneath a lathe, threatening a chain reaction similar to last month's Tokaimura emergency in Japan.

Graeme Hammond, director of communications at AWE Aldermaston, dismissed the allegations as nonsense. "This is a total travesty of the real situation," he said. "If things are as bad as has been suggested we would have been shut down immediately. We have a culture where we encourage people to report anything they see that could produce an incident."

John Crofts, director of safety at Aldermaston, confirmed the safety-related incidents documented at the weekend had occurred, but denied there was any risk to the public. "I give my personal assurance that Aldermaston is safe," he added.

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