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Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston

Volume 981: debated on Monday 17 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what percentage of the work being carried out at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston, is classified; how much of the active area still remains closed; and whether he is satisfied that safety procedures at the establishment are at least as good as those at other atomic energy plants in the United Kingdom.

Although some of the basic scientific work undertaken is open and published, nearly all of the work at AWRE is directed at classified programmes. This does not imply any in- hibition on safety procedures. These reflect the same national regulations and international standards as apply at other United Kingdom atomic energy establishments, with whom there are standing arrangements for a mutual exchange of information; and AWRE is subject to the independent inspection of the Health and Safety Executive. Given the recent misleading BBC "Newsnight" programme, it is worth emphasising that the thorough and unclassified report on safety at Aldermaston by Sir Edward Pochin, whose recommendations were fully accepted by the Government, said that the industrial safety record of AWRE was of a generally high quality and that the establishment had a good record in preventing major radiation exposures. I am confident that the measures now in hand to implement the Pochin recommendations will ensure that high standards are fully maintained.On the active area the position is that one of the main buildings is fully operational and a second building is in preparation for a resumption of work. Several other buildings are not operational. No one is asked to work in the area until it is judged safe to do so and the staff associations and trades unions agree that this is the case. A phased return to work is proceeding on this basis.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the operational skills of those responsible for carrying out whole body monitoring at the Atomic Research Establishment, Aldermaston; whether their professional abilities are such as to guarantee that measurements of radioactivity in the bodies of workers at the establishment, where these are found, are accurately expressed; and when the second whole body monitor is to be installed.

The first whole body monitor at AWRE is currently being commissioned; the second is due to be commissioned in 1981. Meanwhile, the monitoring is being done at other establishments. The AWRE monitor will, of course, be properly manned by qualified staff. Measurements on a whole body inevitably contain uncertainties: they have to be interpreted in conjunction with other measurements and in the light of the full exposure history of the workers involved. This is done at AWRE by means of a special panel, including independent members of the National Radiological Protection Board. I am fully satisfied that monitoring arrangements for AWRE workers are at least the equal of those available in comparable establishments.