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Information about the safety and environmental risks posed by a newnuclear weapons research facility which is to be built at the AtomicWeapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston should be released to thepublic, according to the Nuclear Information Service (NIS).
The research group is concerned that excessive secrecy surroundsproposals to build ‘Project Hydrus’, a new hydrodynamics research facility at AWE Aldermaston, where warheads for the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system are manufactured. A planning application for thenew facility was submitted to West Berkshire Council last month.
Key information about Project Hydrus, its impacts, and the risks itposes has been withheld from the public by the Ministry of Defence,which claims that releasing such information into the public domainwould be “contrary to the interests of national defence”.
NIS has published a detailed briefing about the planned new facility(attached) and has posted a copy of the MoD’s justification forwithholding the information, released under the Freedom of InformationAct, on the NIS website.
Lack of information about the impacts means that the planning committeeand the public must rely entirely on the judgement of AWE andgovernment regulatory agencies to decide whether risks posed by the newfacility are acceptable and safeguards for protecting the public are adequate. The new facility will pose a number of environmental and safety risks which are not addressed in the Defence Exempt Environmental Assessment:
- Radioactive plutonium will be used in some of the tests conducted inthe facility, and so radioactively contaminated wastes will begenerated, which will be stored on site pending development of a National Repository for the UK’s radioactive waste.
- Explosives will also be handled and detonated as an integral part ofthe experimental programme.- X-ray radiation from the high powered x-ray machines used to recordimages during experiments poses a potential hazard to human health.
- The costs have not been disclosed by the Ministry of Defence, but are certain to amount to hundreds of millions of pounds, at a time when the country faces great economic difficulties. Anew high-powered hydrodynamics facility at the USA’s Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory in New Mexico eventually cost more than $US 1 billion to construct and commission.
Peter Burt, Director of the Nuclear Information Service, said: “TheMinistry of Defence’s view that people have no right to know about thehazards which they face from a major nuclear establishment is what wewould expect to hear from a creaky old Soviet dictatorship, and not a modern democratic government.
“Clearly Project Hydrus is far more than a replacement for AWE’scurrent hydrodynamics facilities. Alongside the Orion high powered laser and new supercomputing facilities, Project Hydrus will play a core role in AWE’s warhead research programme and would be vital in the design of any new nuclear warhead.”