Fears over safety at Aldermaston nuclear plant

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN 100 workers have been contaminated, injured or killed at the nuclear bomb factory at Aldermaston, Berkshire, and the recommendations of an inquiry 15 years ago have still not been implemented, Greenpeace says in a report published today.

The Ministry of Defence rejects its allegations that the buildings at Aldermaston are decrepit, that radiation levels are dangerously high, and that risks are being taken in a rush to produce warheads for the Trident programme.

The Greenpeace report calls for a halt to nuclear weapons production at Aldermaston and an independent investigation into safety before it is placed under commercial management in April. Greenpeace says its report, Aldermaston - Inside the Citadel, is the first study of health and safety at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the 15 years since the Pochin report of 1978. The 'citadel' refers to the top security 'A Area', where there have been at least 22 fires since 1955.

At Aldermaston as a whole, there have been 252 fires in the last 40 years, the report says. It cites 190 sources: press reports, parliamentary answers and unpublished local fire records.

'We got two researchers to go through the local fire brigade records,' Sue Adams, of Greenpeace, said. 'They came up with this astonishing number of fires.'

The Greenpeace report also gives details of nine people who developed cancer as a possible result of exposure to radiation. In 1978, following press reports that plutonium overdoses had been found in the lungs of 12 Aldermaston workers, the Secretary of State for Defence appointed Sir Edward Pochin, a radiologist from Harwell, to carry out an inquiry.

Pochin recommended action in two main areas: an increase in staff, especially health physics and maintenance, and replacement of problem buildings, especially the waste management complex. He also criticised poor 'housekeeping' and general sloppiness.

The report surmises that there is still a staff shortage in these areas. Work on new buildings began in 1983, but none of the new facilities is yet operational. A91, the replacement for the waste management building, got as far as the commissioning stage when faults were found in the pipework. Last week, a contract was awarded to National Nuclear Corporation to examine the building. The report also includes a photograph showing rubbish lying around haphazardly, much as in 1978.

Yesterday the MoD said the instances of cancer did not 'necessarily indicate a greater hazard than in any other industry'.

Aldermaston is to be managed by a commercial company from April, though it will remain the property of the Crown. Dr David Clark, Labour's defence spokesman, will be calling for an inquiry before this happens.

The report alleges that the Government will not call even a temporary halt to warhead production because Trident is behind schedule. It recognises that Aldermaston cannot simply be shut down: 'It will have vital work - disassembling existing weapons, decommissioning facilities, storing and monitoring radioactive waste, and cleaning up contamination - for centuries to come.'