Conditions at Britain’s nuclear bomb factory are now so dangerous that a nuclear safety watchdog is threatening to shut it down.

In its annual report, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has ordered that urgent changes must be made at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Burghfield, where nuclear warheads are assembled and maintained. AWE Aldermaston – where the bombs are designed and manufactured – was also criticised.

The report cites issues including that theAtomic Weapons Establishment sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield rely on the use of ageing production facilities’ and ‘AWE continues to be behind schedule in undertaking periodic reviews of safety and implementing necessary upgrades in some facilities’.

The ONR goes on to say that in light of safety concerns, it couldn’t authorise a full programme of production at Burghfield and will have to halt production if satisfactory progress is not made quickly. AWE is now subject to an ‘enhanced level of attention’.

AWE Aldermaston is now in its sixth consecutive year of special measures and AWE Burghfield in its third. Dangerous problems have frequently been identified at the sites, with the ONR having to act on issues as serious as injury to staff.

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson criticised the latest development in the crisis-ridden plant. She said:

‘The sheer incompetence at AWE is staggering. There can be no health and safety failures where nuclear bombs are involved. This is an unacceptable risk to the public.

‘Spending at the AWE sites has risen to around £1 billion a year in recent years meaning that a huge amount of public money is being poured into a factory that is failing to meet safety standards.

‘Of course, the risks of nuclear technology are well-known and the only truly safe way forward is to abandon the production of nuclear warheads completely, and to scrap the Trident nuclear weapons system and its replacement. Until then, the very least we should expect is the highest level of safety standards.’