Office for Nuclear Regulation

ONR concludes investigation into AWE licence instrument

13 April, 2015

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has concluded its investigation into the Atomic Weapons Establishment’s (AWE) failure to meet the terms of a Licence Instrument requiring the reduction in volume and encapsulation of 1,000 drums of intermediate level radioactive waste.

ONR issued a Licence Instrument in 2007 requiring AWE to reduce in volume and encapsulate the drums by February 2014. On 20 February 2014, it expired without its requirements being met, prompting an ONR investigation.

The expired Licence Instrument related to the medium- and long-term management of accumulated intermediate level waste at AWE’s Aldermaston site. In the short-term, ONR is satisfied that the current conditions under which the waste is stored are acceptable and do not give rise to significant risk to the public or the workforce.

ONR will not seek prosecution of AWE for failing to meet the Licence Instrument’s requirements, but will now consider what action is needed to achieve the hazard reduction specified by the Licence Instrument in reasonably practicable timescales. This may include further enforcement action.

Since being informed by AWE that it would not be able to meet the terms of the Licence Instrument by the required date, ONR has requested AWE develop an appropriate solution demonstrating adequate progress in placing the hazardous material into a passively safe form. In response, AWE has improved its arrangements for storing untreated intermediate level waste, and continues to make progress in developing its long term waste treatment and storage strategy.

ONR continues to engage with AWE during the development of this strategy to ensure that the risks to the public and the workforce remain reduced so far as is reasonably practicable. ONR routinely inspects AWE’s arrangements for the production and storage of all forms of radioactive waste at their facilities, and any day-to-day regulatory issues arising with the safety of storage are dealt with through normal interactions with AWE as the licensee.

Rather than seeking prosecution and given there is no short-term risk to the public or workforce, ONR considers a more proportionate and effective response to be seeking to ensure the robustness of AWE’s long term strategy and enforcing its implementation, where required through further enforcement action.