A NUCLEAR weapons factory near Reading will remain under extra scrutiny until at least 2021 because of safety concerns. 

The UK’s nuclear warheads are designed, made and maintained at two sites close to Reading: AWE Aldermaston and Burghfield. Both have been under extra scrutiny for around six years due to safety concerns.

According to a new report from the regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), the two sites will remain under enhanced regulatory attention — similar to a school being in special measures — for at least two years. 

The concerns are because the facilities are ageing and plans to replace them with modern equipment have been delayed. 

AWE had planned to replace the Burghfield facilities by 2016, but due to construction delays, this is now contracted for 2023. 

Also of concern are ‘shortfalls in AWE’s organisational capability’, to adequately review the safety of ‘key ageing facilities, along with the necessary safety upgrades’.

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The chief nuclear inspector’s annual report for 2018/19 was published October 11 by the ONR. AWE, short for the Atomic Weapons Establishment, is the company contracted by the Ministry of Defence.

The inspector’s report states: “The AWE sites will remain under enhanced regulatory attention until we are satisfied that sufficient progress has been demonstrated.

“[This is] recognising that AWE has a programme of work in place to improve safety performance, the nature of improvements required, and the time they will take to deliver and embed.”

In 2017, AWE started developing a structured improvement programme looking at safety and regulatory compliance. 

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Paul Rees, AWE’s director of environment, safety and health, said: “While we acknowledge that short-term challenges remain, the progress we are making in some areas demonstrates our strong commitment to improving safety and regulatory compliance. 

“Achieving the highest standards in safety performance is a priority for everyone at AWE, and we will continue to work closely with our regulators to achieve this.”