§ Mr. Tony Banks
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what caused the explosion at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Burghfield in Berkshire on Friday 2 December; at what time the explosion occurred; if there were any casualties; and what damage was caused to property at Burghfield and in the surrounding area;
(2) if it is normal practice to burn surplus high explosives at Burghfield; and if he will make a statement;
(3) what information was given to the media following the explosion at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Burghfield on Friday 2 December.253W
§ Mr. Sainsbury
A minor unplanned explosion occurred at AWE Burghfield at 0606 on the morning of 2 December. It took place during the routine burning of surplus conventional explosive waste on a special open site, within the main boundary fence, which is normally used for this purpose. There was no personal injury and no danger to the work force or public at any time. Such burning is controlled remotely and is carried out when the work force is not present as an additional safety precaution. The slight damage sustained on site was localised to a few broken windows and, to the best of our knowledge, no damage was caused outside the establishment. No radioactive material was involved or in any way at risk in this incident.
The handling and disposal of the explosives are governed by strict controls laid down by the Defence Safety Services Organisation (DSSO). These regulations and checks cover such matters as safety distances, warnings, demarcation, access, emergency services, procedures and records. The DSSO had licensed AWE Burghfield to carry out explosive disposal in recognition of their compliance with these standards but such work has now been suspended while a detailed enquiry is conducted into the cause of the explosion. Security considerations preclude publication of the enquiry report though the local trades unions will be fully involved.
The site's own emergency services were on hand but were not required to take any immediate action as there was no fire and no continuing emergency. Likewise, the local fire brigade and police were alerted automatically but took no action on arrival. The essential facts were made available to the media promptly.