Atomic Weapons Establishment issued with non-compliance notice by Environment Agency over handling of hazardous waste
Britainâ€™s nuclear bomb factories have been reprimanded by two government watchdogs for breaking safety rules on radioactive waste.
AWE, the private consortium that operates Trident nuclear weapons facilities at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire for the Ministry of Defence, has come under fire from theÂ Environment Agency (EA)Â and theÂ Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR)Â for failures in managing its hazardous waste.
The EA has issued AWE with a non-compliance notice because key posts meant to ensure the safe handling of wastes have been vacant for months. These include waste officers, radioactive specialists and the head of environment.
AWE blamed security requirements â€“ which can include the vetting of prospective employees â€“ for delays in filling the vacancies. According to the EA, AWE has breached conditions imposed in 2012 to ensure that enough skilled staff were employed to look after radioactive waste safely.
â€œOperators are expected to comply with their permit conditions at all times,â€ an EA spokesman told The Guardian. â€œFollowing a site audit we found that AWE Aldermaston was not fully complying with all their permit conditions.â€
AWE stressed that it kept its staffing arrangement under constant review. â€œBut a number of unforeseen circumstances at very short notice led to the vacancies,â€ said an AWE spokeswoman.
â€œAt the time of the EA inspection candidates were identified to fill the posts but the security requirements have led to recruitment delays. In the interim, existing staff are covering the roles.â€
AWE pointed out that the EA had found its radioactive waste arrangements to be â€œrobust and identified a number of areas of good practiceâ€.
At the same time ONR is considering whether to take legal action over AWEâ€™s failure to make 1,000 drums of hazardous radioactive waste safe. AWE promised in 2007 to repackage and reduce the waste by February 2014, but has not done so.
â€œONR is continuing to investigate AWEâ€™s failure to meet the requirements of the licence instrument, in accordance with our normal processes,â€ said an ONR spokesman. â€œONR will consider enforcement action in accordance with our enforcement policy when all investigations are completed.â€
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