A plant which enriches uranium is just about the last place you'd want to hear of having to shut down because of the 'corrosion' of its structural steelwork. But, following an investigation by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), it was revealed last week that the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston has indeed been hit by a temporary closure while further investigations into problems at the ageing facility take place.
The people of Aldermaston Village and the surrounding towns in my constituency will tell you that this isn't the first time safety fears have been raised about their local nuclear bomb making facility. Over the last few years reports have emerged detailing multiple safety failures at the plant.
AWE, the consortium which runs the Aldermaston site, is jointly owned by US firms Lockheed Martin and Jacobs Engineering Group, and the British firm Serco. The group is scheduled to appear in court this March in relation to a fire in August 2010. On top of this there are reports that there have been as many as 50 other fires at Aldermaston over the last two years.
And, as if that's not worrying enough, the Nuclear Information Service has dug up details of abnormal incidents which had the potential to breach nuclear safety in recent years. The incidents included areas of the facility being left uncovered by fire alarms and discrepancies in maintenance records for key equipment.
The old, tired facility at Aldermaston serves as a fitting symbol for our nuclear deterrent as a whole. The site, which was a spitfire assembly plant as part of the fight against fascism in the 1930s, has been used for nuclear weapon production for over 60 years. The rusting steelwork surrounds enriched uranium, powerful enough to kill and maim entire populations, which will never be used. The decaying bomb factory produces a weapon that the British population don't want and experts from the military think we don't need.
To keep on producing weapons-grade uranium Aldermaston is clearly going to need some major investment. At a time of austerity, when families are relying on foodbanks and benefits are being cut, can we really justify adding to the already astronomical nuclear weapons bill?
In a recent interview Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, said that an upcoming review of Britain's nuclear deterrent would include seven or eight alternatives to replacing Trident. One of these options simply must be a non-nuclear option.
The fires and faults at Aldermaston remind us of the continuing dangers posed by nuclear weapons whilst the cries of nuke supporters are increasingly falling on deaf ears. For the sake of the residents living near the disintegrating site - some of whom were forced to evacuate their homes after the fire in August 2010 - and because the atom bomb is a relic we no longer require, I'm supporting the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in saying: "Stop fooling with nuclear weapons."
A protest calling on the UK government to scrap Trident will be held at Aldermaston on 1 April.
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