Nuclear weapons sites to be licensed for safety

THE Government is to make Aldermaston and Burghfield, Britain's two atomic weapons manufacturing plants, subject to licensing by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, Roger Freeman, Minister of State at Defence, announced last night.

The move comes after inspectors found a string of 'serious' safety failings.

Mr Freeman told MPs at the end of a two-day defence debate that the Government accepted 'in principle' the Health and Safety Executive's recommendation that the plants be subject to licence under the Nuclear Installation Act. The decision, however, was subject to discussions about implementation.

The HSE halted the manufacturing process for nuclear weapons at Aldermaston because of the risk that an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction might develop in highly enriched uranium being machined there. In an audit of safety at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), HSE inspectors found that standards were so poor that AWE would not have received a licence if it were a civil nuclear power station.

The HSE's report, published on Monday, identified a catalogue of deficiencies including the way that management set about ensuring that it operated safely. Since its foundation, AWE has enjoyed Crown Immunity from prosecution and has been responsible for its own health and safety.

The primary recommendation by the HSE inspectors was that the AWE's immunity from licensing under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 should be waived.

Before any civilian company can get a licence from the NII its management must assess the safety of every activity carried out on the site. Licencing is not seen as a way of getting inspectors through the gates. Rather it is a way of inculcating a 'safety- culture' throughout an organisation by forcing managers to accept responsibility for site safety.

The Ministry of Defence's 77 opulent 'residences' for senior officers are to be investigated and some could be sold off under a new review of 'representative entertainment', headed by Sir Peter Cazalet, a former member of the Armed Forces' Pay Review Body, the Government said yesterday, writes Christopher Bellamy.

The four-month review follows an outcry in July when it was revealed that the MoD had spent pounds 387,000 refurbishing Haymes Garth, Gloucestershire, residence of Air Chief Marshal Sir Sandy Wilson, Commander-in-Chief of RAF Personnel and Training Command, which was pounds 187,000 more than expected.

Reviews into the Defence Intelligence Service and the progress of a review into armed forces' pay and conditions, which will report in the new year, were confirmed.