Fire at a nuclear bomb making facility in the UK. Another near miss?

06.10.2010 - London - Silvia Swinden

Residents near the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) were evacuated after fire broke out. The blaze took place in the non-nuclear explosives area of the facility. One member of AWE staff was burned in the incident and was treated by first aiders on-site. It was reported at the time that AWE’s fire and rescue service fought the blaze, supported by Royal Berkshire fire fighters. A 600m cordon was thrown around the building *“as a precautionary measure,”* according to a spokesperson, and a number of local residents were evacuated overnight from their homes. A statement released by AWE Aldermaston said: *“A full investigation in the causes of the incident, which has no radiological implications, will be undertaken. The Ministry of Defence and AWE’s regulators have been informed.”*

However on September the 26th the Observer newspaper reported that in fact *“Fire fighters ‘lost control’ of the blaze at Aldermaston nuclear weapons base. Fire burned for nine hours as pumps and appliances were called up from London and elsewhere, according to files obtained by the Observer under the Freedom of Information Act”*. The same article reveals that the blaze took place in a building housing high explosives, and that it took many hours to locate the necessary equipment to bring the fire under control (40 miles away, in London). The article also describes a number of previous incidents requiring the presence of the fire services, which had not reached public awareness. It continues: *“The release of the logs comes as the local council is expected to give planning approval this week for Project Hydrus, the next generation of thermonuclear warheads that will cost hundreds of millions of pounds to develop.”*

According to a BBC report *“when some of the fire fighters turned up they were kept waiting at the gates because security staff wouldn’t allow them access”*. The fire is thought to have been originated when a solvent used in the production of explosives “flashed and caught light”.

Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment is located within a few miles of three major South England cities and 40 miles from London. Its facilities are used not only to manufacture nuclear bombs for the UK but also for the US and a nuclear explosion, whether caused by accident or by terrorism, would mean radioactive contamination for millions of people besides the many immediate deaths caused by the blast. It seems that England, and one of its most desirable areas in terms of beauty and house prices, is literally sitting on a nuclear time bomb.

AWE must have been prominently in the minds of those who responded to the crisis caused by a passenger plane that lost radio contact for a period of time whilst flying over England. This took place very shortly after the 9/11 attack in the US. In fact RAF fighters were in the air ready to destroy the airliner which had failed to respond to radio messages. Tony Blair has confirmed in his newly published memoirs that he came close to ordering the RAF to shoot down a passenger plane over London. The after effects of these events are clear. In September 2006 the pilots of a holiday jet which suffered a potentially catastrophic electrical fault (with loss of radio contact) refused to divert to a nearer landing spot because they feared they would be shot down by military craft if they changed the planned flight path.

When a British and a French nuclear submarines carrying nuclear weapons collided in February 2009 in the Atlantic the horror of what might have happened soon turned into ridicule at the sheer bizarreness of such an event, considering the high level of safety and security claimed by the authorities in relation to such weapons of mass destruction. The statements released assured the public that the submarines were just dented, as they were travelling at very low speed. So, what would have happened if they had been travelling at high speed? The British Ministry of Defence initially refused to confirm the incident but had to change their attitude as the French military authorities publicised details of the incident on a website. In May 2008 a British nuclear submarine crashed into a large rock in the Red Sea due to an officer misreading a number one as seven on a navigational chart. The Ministry of Defence neither confirmed nor denied whether it was carrying, as it often does, Tomahawk Cruise Missiles.

Accidents do happen but when nuclear weapons are around and it is all shrouded in secrecy we are dealing with potential disasters without any control or chance of self-defence by ordinary people. The only sane alternative is to get rid once and for all of these illegal, immoral, unaffordable and accident prone agents of death, no doubt loved by terrorists.

Categories: Ecology and Environment, Europe, International

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