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 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 11: 99: Greenham Common
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Wednesday, 10 November, 1999, 17:44 GMT
The fight goes on at Aldermaston
aldermaston graphic

It has been more than a decade since the women of the peace camps at Greenham Common last made regular headline news.

But campaigners say that although the airbase at the common has been levelled, the fight against nuclear weapons goes on.

For several years, groups and individuals have been actively protesting about the atomic weapons establishments at Aldermaston and nearby Burghfield.

AWE Aldermaston was established in 1950 to design and manufacture nuclear weapons and makes the UK's current nuclear weapons system, Trident.

Health and environmental concerns

Organisations like the Nuclear Awareness Group (NAG) grew out of the Community Inquiry into atomic weapons establishments in 1994.

NAG, which counts a number of former Greenham Common women amongst its ranks, says that the sites are cause for serious health and environmental concerns.

Their fears were vindicated last month when a whistle-blowing AWE employee sent a list of 100 safety related incidents at Aldermaston, Burghfield and Cardiff (which is being decommissioned) to the Observer newspaper.

These incidents between December 1998 and September 1999 were grouped under headings including:

  • environmental contamination
  • criticality errors of judgement
  • incorrect labelling and packaging
  • power supply problems
  • inadequate safe systems of work
  • fires

    Incidents at Aldermaston included cans of plutonium being wrongly labelled and identified, high explosives being found in a container marked as empty, and electrical maintenance work being initiated without full earthing procedures being implemented.

    Other occasions detailed included the shutting down of a ventillation system in January this year, after room pressures "went out of balance trapping staff in the laboratory".

    In April a laser countdown procedure was initiated with two staff members locked into an adjacent void.

    nag Organisations like the Nuclear Awareness Group want independent monitoring
    An inspection in March revealed that all firefighting pumping appliances at Aldermaston were unfit for service.

    The leaked document went on, relating to September this year: "During a workplace safety visit at Burghfield, in the presence of an HSE explosives inspector, an electrician was found to be using equipment that was not intrinciscally safe in close proximity to explosive powder. All the work n the building was subsequently stopped and facility staff informed.

    "As a result of the above, a photographer, taking pictures of the scene, had to be warned about the safety risk of the metal tripod feet in relation to the explosive powder on the floor. This trial of powder led to a hopper containing a large amount of additional explosive which no-one present knew about."

    A spokeswoman for NAG said: "Aldermaston is a mess. There has got to be full and open inquiries into the effects of the emissions from Aldermaston on the health of the people who live locally and their environment."

    She said that while media attention was currently focussed on radioactive pollution of the Thames, the real concern ought to be with the emission of plutonium into the air.

    aldermaston awe An insider blew the whistle on "secret safety related incidents"
    She said: "The plutonium that goes into the Thames, at least it sinks and unless you go raking up the bottom of the Thames, the heavy metals tend to stay there.

    "Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about plutonium released into the atmosphere out of the chimneys.

    "Plutonium doesn't act like other forms of radiation in relation to the body. What happens is that the body mistakes it for calcium and absorbs it through the lungs as it is breathed in, and then stores it in the bones.

    "All calculations of what emissions are safe are based on other forms of radiation, and we want people to sit up and realise that the potential health risks are very, very serious.

    "We desperately need independent monitoring."

    Other protesters have been in complex legal processes following their arrests for damaging the fence around Aldermaston.

    They have appealed against convictions for criminal damage, saying that they were acting in self defence against the threat posed to them by the activities of the atomic weapons establishment.

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    End of an era

    See also:
    04 Nov 99 |  Wales
    Peace campaigners win memorial battle
    06 Sep 99 |  Wales
    Peace women to end their protest

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