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Secret UK Uranium Components Plant Closed Over Safety Fears 101

Lasrick writes "The Guardian has an exclusive story regarding a secret uranium-enriching plant in the UK that was closed due to safety fears. From the article: 'A top-secret plant at Aldermaston that makes enriched uranium components for Britain's nuclear warheads and fuel for the Royal Navy's submarines has been shut down because corrosion has been discovered in its 'structural steelwork', the Guardian can reveal. The closure has been endorsed by safety regulators who feared the building did not conform to the appropriate standards. The nuclear safety watchdog demands that such critical buildings are capable of withstanding 'extreme weather and seismic events,' and the plant at Aldermaston failed this test. It has set a deadline of the end of the year for the problems to be fixed.'"
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Secret UK Uranium Components Plant Closed Over Safety Fears

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  • by Neil_Brown ( 1568845 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @06:39AM (#42689125) Homepage

    The AWE plant at Aldermaston is well signed from the road, and its website [] seems at least reasonably open about what it does:

    Our role at AWE is to manufacture and sustain the warheads for the Trident system ... Our work at AWE covers the entire life cycle of nuclear warheads; from initial concept, assessment and design, through to component manufacture and assembly, in-service support, and finally decommissioning and disposal.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 25, 2013 @06:55AM (#42689169)

      Somebody in the Guardian comments pointed out that it's even listed in the (slightly comical) Wiki entry for the area:

      5 Economy

              5.1 Agriculture
              5.2 Pubs and brewing
              5.3 Cricket bats
              5.4 Pottery
              5.5 Atomic Weapons Establishment
              5.6 Other businesses

    • by mekkab ( 133181 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @07:11AM (#42689221) Homepage Journal
      No. It's probably "secret" as in "you don't have the clearance to enter the building and there are armed guards."
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That's not secret that's just high security.

        • by ZiakII ( 829432 )
          That's not secret that's just high security.

          Look at the NATO classifications [] if you need to understand what secret is.
      • My English blows, but I thought what you're saying can be summarized by "secured", "guarded", "militarized".
        What you say there can be applied to any bank's vault, does it make that vault "secret"?

        • by mekkab ( 133181 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @09:18AM (#42689743) Homepage Journal
          my apologies for assuming you knew what I meant by "secret" and "top secret". When information (be it technology, strategy, etc) is deemed to be of a sensitive nature, it is considered classified. And there are levels of classification; Proprietary (usually this has nothing to do with national security, but it's sensitive information for a business. If you knew Apple Computer was going to by company Foo before the public announcement, that would be proprietary information that a competitor would love to know), "Secret" and "Top Secret" (these levels pertaining to national security).

          So while a bank's vault is secured, what it contains is not sensitive information (it's money, it's bearer bonds, gold perhaps...). You can know what is in there and it doesn't compromise the nation.

          Where-as if you know some specific technical detail about uranium enrichment, you could sell that to another foreign nation, and THAT would compromise national security.

          I hope this makes some sense!
        • Nope, but the contents of the safety deposit boxes inside it certainly are. The USSR had "secret cities" in plain site, area 51 is on the tourist map.... In other words the meaning is clear, the debate is about semantics.
      • by robthebloke ( 1308483 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @09:15AM (#42689721)
        No it's probably secret as in:
        Government: "MI6 does not exist"
        Everyone else: "Yes it does, it's in that big building with MI6 written on it"
        Government: "No, MI6 does not exist".
        Everyone else: "But you just responded to this question using the e-mail address:"
        Government: "ok, so MI6 does exist"
        Everyone else: "We already know"
      • Also, it's exempt from FOI requests and journalists can be refused access.
      • by Bowdie ( 11884 )

        I live around the corner from GCHQ in Cheltenham. It has signs on it saying something like "This is a secret building under the official secrets act, and photography of it is forbidden."

        And there's one of those signs every couple of meters. I can't remember the actual wording, because well - I can't photograph it.

        Mind you, both bing and google earth have wonderful close ups of this totally secret building.

        • by Tim99 ( 984437 )
          I worked in an MOD secret establishment 40 years ago that had a sign on the perimeter fence "Trespassers will be transported". I think transportation to the Colonies finished in about 1868; but we still did not have many intruders because of the armed guards, dogs, and barbed wire.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      A well signposted nuclear facility in the UK? It wouldn't be the first time:

    • I think they mean the enrichment plant was secret. Not the whole site.

    • by s7uar7 ( 746699 )
      The plant itself isn't secret but I'm not sure that publicising that it has structural problems is necessarily a good idea.
      • by phayes ( 202222 )

        Given that the problems are planned to be fixed within months in this highly regulated sector where everything takes longer, the problem isn't as bad as the nuclear boogey man crowd are trying to make it appear to be.

        • If the irradiated parts of the building weren't designed to be easily removed and replaced then they're doing it wrong. That shit is hard on the molecules.

          • by phayes ( 202222 )

            You're mistaken on two levels: first off the problem is not in "the irradiated parts" & secondly those parts are generally massive enough to make "easy" replacement difficult.

            The problem is in certifying that the building is solid enough to withstand a major seismic event or something similar, not anything to do with radiation. Reinforcing the rusted girders will be sufficient.

    • Well, of course. It's just down the street from the secret nuclear bunker. []

    • I believe the residents of the area hope the work excludes 1 part of the 'life cycle' of a nuclear warhead...the detonation phase.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So it's the actual *building* that is unsafe, and not the plant as such.
    Why not just build a new building and move everything over? Or, maybe just reinforce the old one until it meets sufficient safety standards?

  • by mirix ( 1649853 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @06:40AM (#42689135)

    Sounds like the system is working as it is supposed to. Inspectors found problem, problem will be rectified.

    Now had they not found anything, and it fell apart like that bridge a few years back, then that's news.

    The facility doesn't sound terribly 'secret', not any more at least...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That is funny reasoning. There are several different types of maintenance actions and among these are protective and corrective maintenance. Protective maintenance is supposed to find errors so they can be fixed during normal downtimes. Corrective maintenance means that something broke and you had to fix it imminently. If you find yourself in corrective maintenance, then your other maintenance programs (other than maintenance designed to detect corrective maintenance) failed. Nobody wants to have a forced o

    • Slashdot seems to succumb to these shrill stories more and more now.

      "Oh fucking no! (insert distorted descriptions more fitting on the back cover of a UFO book)! Ain't that just awful gais?"

    • Replacing structural steel within one year sounds like a potentially tall order. But I suppose where there's a will, there's a way.
  • A top-secret plant at Aldermaston

    An uranium enriching plant is not something you can hide very easily, once you know where it is localed (more or less).
    I mean, unless you aim to enrich a few grams a year ...

    • The AWE site at Aldermaston is enormous. It's an old airfield stuffed with big, nondescript buildings. Unless you're working on site you won't get within about half a mile of any of the 'interesting' ones and even when on site you won't know what's in most of them unless directly working there. I can well believe that they have a hidden enrichment plant.

      • It's a simple rule: the interesting buildings have a few windows, the *really* interesting ones have no windows at all. The latter tend to be surrounded by the former or otherwise obscured.

        • by nojayuk ( 567177 )

          As I signed Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act I can't tell you about the buildings with no windows I may or may not have worked in at AWE, that is back when it was called AWRE and only did research and development, not including the work needed to build and maintain nuclear weapons which was done elsewhere. However the more secret parts of the site were housed in typical office buildings with windows.

          As for AWE being "secret", the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) used to hold annual protest marc

          • I'll see your fuzzy detail from Google and raise you erased buildings; the car parks to north and south are shown but the building I may or may not have worked in is a badly 'shopped grassy knoll...

  • "The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), for which Aldermaston has become known,[103] is less than 1 mile (1.6 km) south of the village. "

    Very well kept secret...

  • Title inaccurate. (Score:4, Informative)

    by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @07:01AM (#42689201)

    FormerlySecret UK Uranium Components Plant Closed Over Safety Fears

    This is not the same Secret Nuclear Bunker which is signposted nearby Brentwood. That is a totally separate formerly secret nuclear site.

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      I do love that the signs say "Secret Nuclear Bunker" on that particular one. I used to laugh every time I drove past on my way to work.

      Why not just "Nuclear Bunker", or "Former Nuclear Bunker", as it's still only a tourist-attraction signpost anyway. Secret Nuclear Bunker just makes you laugh.

      Unless that's the point - now we discussed it at least twice and people will think "Oh, I'll go and find that"...

      • Unless that's the point - now we discussed it at least twice and people will think "Oh, I'll go and find that"...

        I've no idea as to the authenticity of much of the contents, but the whole place is filled with faintly creepy signs. The near-total absence of staff, the honesty-boxes for any kind of payment and the (non-functional?) security cameras all over the place, it's all very much in keeping with the creepily humorous 'Secret Nuclear Bunker' name. At least, I assume it's meant to be funny.

        (I took loads []

      • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

        The signpost is funny but the site itself is very interesting to visit if you're a techie. They've got a working telephone exchange down there and a lot of old computers to play about it amongst other things. Its no longer owned or run by the govt btw, a family now runs it as a tourist attraction. The only not so good thing is the cafe so bring your own drinks unless you like watery coffee and stale buns.

      • Why not just "Nuclear Bunker", or "Former Nuclear Bunker"

        Because it's supposed to be secret?

  • Big Deal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Big Hairy Ian ( 1155547 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @07:03AM (#42689209)
    Somebody get an Architect we need a new building.
    • by dj245 ( 732906 )

      Somebody get an Architect we need a new building.

      Is this supposed to be funny? Architects do not design industrial buildings housing process equipment. Not for the last 60 years at least. []. Architects design silly floor plans and building outlines. Engineers are the ones who turn that pile into something that can be actually be built. We skip the architect in industrial buildings and generally wrap the building around the equipment and integrate the heavier machinery foundations.

  • I read this -- it is a scam. They have not really closed the plant, they just erected some sort of social barrier to prevent humans from entering it to do whatever it is humans do there. The plant is presently doing what plants do when humans are not present, openly so. Everything is working as it should, as might be expected. Under this circumstance of the plant being unpopulated by humans, I mean.

    I see this shoddiness everywhere these days. Absurd claims that something is closed when you could shove a sti

  • by Irate Engineer ( 2814313 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @07:50AM (#42689319)
    This is an example of the social headwinds nuclear engineering (actually any engineering) faces all the time. Engineers identify a problem, usually during routine inspections (inspections that take place in order to find any problems!), and take an action such as shutting down in a controlled manner to remedy the problem. The tabloid title of the summary of the event invariably reads "Nuclear Plant X Forced to Shut Down Due to Safety Fears" and is followed by an article which lists the last N times the plant had to shut down, possibly followed by a comment about TMI/Chernobyl/Fukushima just to keep the drama up. Yes, accidents happen, but the fact that many problems are identified, investigated, and remedied as part of a engineered safety response program seems lost on the public. The battery problems on the Boeing 787 are another similar example - correct actions are being taken to remedy a problem, but journalists are branding the Dreamliner as a potentially unsafe lemon.
    • The press response, like the engineering response, is in direct proportion to the consequences of failure. The plant was shut down, and as you say that was the right course of action, because failure would have significant negative consequences. The Dreamliner fleet was grounded, and as you say that was the right course of action, because it is potentially unsafe.

  • Is it possible that these warheads can reach the USA?
    • Is it possible that these warheads can reach the USA?

      Maybe. We'll have to strike pre-emptively.

    • No need to invade to negate the threat. While we might also have off-shore oil fields it has been said by some that Britain is the 51st state of the USA.

  • Countries are blocking Iran and North Korea from trying to create weaponsgrade uranium/plutonium, but the UK, the US and some other countries are still producing it themselves... who are they to judge Iran and NK for trying to do the same... (Not that I like them to have it, but hee, if you say to someoneelse "you're not allowed to create something" then you aren't allow it yourself IMHO, otherwise it's just a big hypocritic fingerpointing)...

    • who are they to judge Iran and NK for trying to do the same...

      Who are they to judge? the ones with the biggest stick, that's who. Hnestly, I think it happens to be better this way. Governments do this all the time, and generally it's considered OK (e.g. my neighbour almost certainly does not have a Bofors AA autocannon). Why wuld such things not be OK on a larger scale.

      The big problem though is that balistic missiles and nuclear bombs are mid 1940-s tech.

      And once you have them you can suddenly bargain much

  • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @08:30AM (#42689483)

    The nuclear safety watchdog demands that such critical buildings are capable of

    I demand that people who write articles in newspapers be capable of writing proper English before getting their degree in journalism, let alone being hired by said newspapers.

    • be capable of writing proper English before getting their degree in journalism, let alone being hired by said newspapers.

      I believe these should be the same tense. Maybe you could get in on that English class to which those journalists are going to go to meet your demands.

      • Yeah, because it works if you make the front half "They should being capable of writing proper English" or the back half "before be hired by said newspapers".

        • Try reading that again. And maybe one more time for comprehension. The way I'm suggesting it read is, "I demand that people who write articles in newspapers be capable of writing proper English before getting their degree in journalism, let alone be hired by said newspapers."

          I don't know where the hell you came up with "before be hired".
    • What's wrong with that? Looks correct to me. Unless you're referring to the indicative "are" rather than subjunctive "be" - but that's an American requirement. The subjunctive is pretty much dead in British English.

      • In BE, it ought to be "The nuclear safety watchdog demands that such critical buildings should be capable of..." Regardless of whether it's BE or AE, using the indicative is just wrong in that sentence - or sloppy, more likely.

    • The convention varies. In some dialects of English it's conventional to refer to collectives like organisations in the plural while in others it's conventional to refer to them in the singular.

  • "Oil & Gas Frackquake Threat Closes Nuke Weapons Plant"