AWE Aldermaston uranium enrichment facility closed due to 'corrosion' in vital structural steelwork

 

A secret plant that enriches uranium for Britain’s nuclear warheads on submarines has been shut due to “corrosion” in vital structural steelwork, it is revealed today.

The AWE Aldermaston facility was closed following inspections by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), the nuclear division of the Health and Safety Executive.

Regulators feared one of the “older manufacturing facilities”  at the complex in Berkshire, which builds components for the Trident ballistic nuclear missiles on Royal Navy Vanguard-class submarines, did not conform to standards that demand buildings are capable of withstanding “extreme” weather and seismic events.

The ONR issued an “improvement” notice that prompted the closure by the AWE, the private consortium that operates the plant for the Ministry of Defence. AWE has been given until the end of this year to rectify the problems by the ONR.

The group’s role is to manufacture and sustain the Trident warheads and “maintain a capability” to produce a successor to the ageing nuclear deterrent in the future.

AWE said it covers the entire “life cycle” of warheads in Britain from initial concept and design through manufacturing and assembly to decommissioning and disposal.

The firm is run by a group of three private companies:  US firms Lockheed Martin and Jacobs Engineering Group, and the Serco in Britain.

Critics last night said the corrosion in an older building highlighted the Britain’s “ancient and rickety” nuclear infrastructure.

The ONR notice was served on November 8 after a scheduled inspection in August that found an “unexpected” area of steel corrosion in structural steelwork.

The issue emerged through information published in the ONR’s regional community newsletters which are published quarterly.  Inspections at the plant were said to have “discovered an unexpected area of corrosion on structural steelwork in one of their manufacturing facilities at Aldermaston”.

Subsequent inspections by AWE found “further degradation” and all non-essential operations were stopped at the facility.

It is understood the building in question is used for the manufacture of nuclear components and was found not be able to withstand “exceptional challenges”.

“ONR investigated, and found that AWE had not fully complied with Licence Condition 28(1) in so far as its arrangements to examine, maintain and inspect the structure were not adequate to prevent the degradation of the structure, and the resulting challenge to its nuclear safety functions,” said an ONR spokesman last night.

He added: “The Improvement Notice required AWE to ensure that the structure is repaired such that its safety function is fully restored.”

The Ministry of Defence last night said the ONR demands had not had any immediate impact on Britain’s nuclear submarine programmes. A spokesman said AWE was accessing the “extent of the problem” and considering “how best to rectify it”.

“The MoD’s ancient ancient and rickety infrastructure is clearly not up to the job of replacing the current Trident nuclear weapons programme,” said the Green MP Caroline Lucas. She added: “Rebuilding it to modern safety standards will add even more to the vast costs of the programme.”

An AWE spokeswoman said operations had been suspended as a “precaution”. She add that the improvement notice “formalises a lot of the inspection and review work” that had already been carried out by the company.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones