Office for Nuclear Regulation

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HM Nuclear Installations Inspectorate

Relicensing the Atomic Weapons Establishment Sites to AWE plc


The safety of licensed nuclear installations in the UK is the responsibility of holders of nuclear site licences and is assured through a system of regulatory control. A nuclear site licence, which can only be granted to a corporate body, permits the use of a site for specified activities. Licensing applies throughout the lifetime of an installation from design, siting, construction, commissioning, operation, and modification to eventual completion of decommissioning.

Under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 (as amended)1 (NI Act), no site may be used for the purposes of installing or operating nuclear facilities unless a nuclear site licence has been granted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for that site. Before this can be done, HSE's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) will evaluate an application by considering three main aspects: the organisation; the location; and the activities. A licence may be revoked by HSE or surrendered by the licensee. However, in either event, the licensee will retain absolute legal responsibility for the nuclear safety of activities on the site until there has ceased to be any danger from ionising radiations from anything on the site.

Since 1997 the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has regulated the management by Hunting BRAE Ltd of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield under the UK's nuclear site licensing regime (see Annex 1). Hunting BRAE's management contract expired on 31 March 2000. The Ministry of Defence (MoD), which owns the sites and is the main customer for their outputs, wanted to achieve a position which enabled AWE plc to run the sites in future. Nuclear site licences cannot be transferred. Consequently the changeover in the management of the sites has necessitated the revocation of the nuclear site licences formerly held by Hunting BRAE Ltd, and the grant of new licences to the new operator, AWE plc.

Before granting new licences HSE needed to assure itself that AWE plc was a suitable body to be licensed and had the potential to operate the sites in a manner consistent with the requirements of the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 (as amended) and with the policies of the Health and Safety Executive in relation to the safe management of nuclear sites. Consequently the NII has undertaken a review of the arrangements which AWE plc proposed to put in place.

The purpose of this report is to summarise the development over the last 5 years of the regulation of the Atomic Weapons Establishment sites by the NII and to set out the basis on which new licences were granted, effective from 1 April 2000.

In order to ensure that the arrangements proposed by AWE plc are fully and adequately implemented, NII proposes to undertake, in addition to its ongoing inspection of the sites, formal reviews of the safety performance of AWE plc at 3 months and 12 months after licensing.