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#603 - February 13, 2004

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Full issue

25 Years ago

What happened 25 years ago? We go back to news from our 1979 WISE Bulletin, comparing anti-nuclear news "then" and "now".

In issue 4 of the WISE Bulletin we wrote about the health hazards of the nuclear weapons production plant Aldermaston, U.K.: "At Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Research Establishment last August [1978], the Ministry of Defense closed down the laundry. Three women who worked there suffered plutonium contamination of the lungs. […] One of the women has not worked in the laundry for some years, but she still carries a lung burden of plutonium above the permitted maximum and fears that it may have even been higher. (WISE Bulletin 4, March 1979)

Britain's nuclear bomb factory at Aldermaston was opened in 1952. The facility has a bad record concerning safety and health issues. About 100 workers have been injured (or even died) because of their jobs, five people have died in fires or explosions and nine workers died as a result of suspected radiation contamination. The plant experienced several accidents, including a number of plutonium fires and radiation leaks.

In 1978, an official inquiry, resulting in the Pochin Report, investigated Aldermaston's health and safety standards and recommended that staff shortages be resolved, solid and liquid waste buildings replaced and standards of general site maintenance improved. Fifteen years later, Greenpeace concluded that none of the recommendations had been fully implemented. The Greenpeace report of their investigation contains detailed descriptions of the plant's facilities and a list of known accidents. Another inquiry was conducted by the U.K. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 1994 and found that Aldermaston's health and safety standards did not match those found elsewhere in the nuclear and high hazard industries. (Aldermaston; Inside the Citadel, Greenpeace, 1993; WISE News Communique 463, 13 December 1996)

In 1989, Aldermaston was mentioned as a possible cause of the high incidence of childhood cancer in the area. The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE), which also observed a raised incidence in leukemia around Sellafield and Dounreay, concluded that the increased number of childhood cancers around Aldermaston were "unlikely to be due to random variation or biased selection". But discharge data from the Ministry of Defense failed to provide a clue as to why the increase had occurred. (WISE News Communqiue 318, 29 September 1989)

In 1999, confidential internal documents were leaked to The Observer once again confirming Aldermaston's bad records. A list of more than 100 breaches of safety was found over 12 months of operation, including eight breaches of 'criticality' rules. (WISE News Communique 520, 29 October 1999)

In 2002, the Ministry of Defense announced a huge expansion plan, worth more than 2 billion pounds (US$ 3.8 billion). The new investments were said to include the production of new nuclear weapons, so called "mini-nukes". (Guardian, 18 June 2002)

For those interested in campaigns: Aldermaston women's peace camp has a website with campaign updates and news at They also publish the newsletter Aldermaston Update! that can be found on the same site.


ISSN: 1570-4629