WE WERE told that 'it could never happen here' after the recent nuclear disaster in Japan. Yet it nearly DID happen here, according to a series of revelations in the Observer newspaper.
The Aldermaston nuclear weapons plant near Reading, just 50 miles from London, has broken key safety procedures on over 100 occasions in the last year. The incidents could have led to an explosion like that at the Tokaimura plant in Japan last month. And in 1993 there was nearly a full scale nuclear disaster at Aldermaston which could have killed thousands.
In that incident dangerous amounts of enriched uranium were concentrated in an oil tank. Scientists were horrified when they discovered the concentration, as the oil solution has the effect of making the material even more dangerous and potentially explosive. A disaster was only narrowly avoided. One scientist involved said, 'We were saved by pure luck.' He added that if the explosion had occurred 'more employees and public would have been exposed than in Japan.'
The Observer report catalogues dozens of potentially 'critical' incidents at Aldermaston in recent months. In one incident in April a vital safety system, which protects the plant from lightning strikes, was not working and vital fuses had been removed. Lightning strikes on the volatile material used to make atomic bombs could trigger a full scale nuclear explosion.
The revelations about Aldermaston come hard on the heels of others about secret nuclear plants around Britain. British Nuclear Fuels operates a near identical plant to that at Tokaimura at Springfields outside Preston. And in last week's Socialist Worker we reported the revelations about a secret nuclear plant at a Rolls Royce factory just a mile from Derby city centre.
The Raynesway plant in Derby employs 1,900 people and stands near two major housing estates. It processes uranium five times as deadly as that used in the Japanese plant. In an emergency exercise in March this year, health and safety inspectors slammed Raynesway for being 'unable to demonstrate adequate contamination control arrangements'. In other words, if anything went wrong, lethal radiation could spill out of the plant and spread across Derby.
How many more such potentially catastrophic nuclear plants exist across Britain? The only reason for any of these plants to exist at all is because the New Labour government wants to have nuclear weapons. They should all be shut down now.