PLANS for a new enriched uranium handling and storage facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment have been approved.

Lib Dem councillor for Theale, Alan Macro, was the only member of West Berkshire Council's planning committee to vote against the proposal for the Aldermaston site at tonight's (Wednesday) meeting.

AWE's Andrew Jupp told the committee that they were happy to accept a request from Aldermaston Parish Council for a condition to be imposed preventing an increase in the current levels of enriched uranium at the nuclear bomb factory.

But planning officer Dave Pearson said: "I don't know how we can check how much uranium is being taken into the site. I think we just have to rely on the assurances of the developer.

"To impose a condition might give an expectation to the public that we are monitoring it when in fact we are not."

West Berkshire Council received almost 1,500 letters of objection as well as opposition from Reading, Basingstoke and Deane and Slough borough councils. A lack of information and consultation were some of the main concerns.

Cllr Alan Macro, who was applauded by members of the public when he voted against the application, said: "I still think having a facility that stores and processes enriched uranium is a risk to the public. It's something very, very small but if something did happen, the consequences could be quite high."

He added: "I don't think this sort of facility should be built in a populous area and this would have been an opportunity to move this facility to another site."

Cllr Irene Neil defended the level of dialogue between the AWE and surrounding communities and said: "The important factors are that this is a continuation of current operations.

"It will create better working conditions and because of this the operational work will be carried out in a safer environment and therefore pose less risk to the public."

Members of the public heckled the committee following the decision, accusing it of being hypocritical and undemocratic. A group of anti-nuclear campaigners (pictured) had also gathered outside the Calcot Centre in Highview prior to the meeting.

Peter Burt, director of the Reading-based Nuclear Information Service, told the committee: "A decision to grant planning permission would demonstrate a very wide gap between your own views and the views of members of the public you are here to represent."