The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) builds British nuclear weapons at two sites in Berkshire – Aldermaston and Burghfield. Aldermaston is responsible for research and the production of nuclear components. The final assembly of warheads takes place at Burghfield. In the 1980s the Ministry of Defence spent billions of pounds building new facilities at Aldermaston for Trident. Now there is an even larger construction programme for the next generation of nuclear weapons.
The Blair and Brown Governments have tried to keep this development as secret as possible. They have deliberately withheld details of their construction plans from the public and from MPs. A partially declassified presentation, obtained by Scottish CND, gives a hint of the scale of developments at Aldermaston and Burghfield. In this presentation Nick Bennet, Director General Strategic Technology, said that there would be “100 facility schemes focused at AWE over the next 20 years”.
Nick Bennet, Director General Strategic Technology, said that there would be “100 facility schemes focused at AWE over the next 20 years”.
Planning applications submitted to West Berkshire Council have revealed a little more MoD’s proposals. The Site Development Context Plan for AWE says there are 23 new build projects. The intention is to rebuild or refurbish almost all of the facilities at Aldermaston and Burghfield.
- Orion Laser – This is now under construction and would play a key role in the design of the next thermonuclear weapon
- Computer facilities – In 2006 Aldermaston placed an order for a £20 million computer, to be called Larch. This is more powerful than any computer today in Europe. And AWE are planning to acquire additional computers with even greater power. These supercomputers should be used to model the earth's climate. They should not be put to work designing weapons of mass destruction.
- Small Component Manufacture – In 2007 West Berkshire Council approved a planning application for a new facility to manufacture components of nuclear weapons at Burghfield revealed a little more of the there are 23 new build
"The Site Development Context Plan projects ... the intention for AWE says there are 23 is to rebuild or refurbish new build projects. The almost all of the facilities at intention is to rebuild or Aldermaston and refurbish almost all of the facilities at Aldermaston and Burghfield."
The plans include the following:
- High Explosive Fabrication Facility – A planning application was submitted in November for a large building to manufacture the high explosive components of nuclear weapons. Objections have been lodged on the grounds that the MoD failed to provide information on the risks involved in handling explosives on a nuclear site.
- Hydrus Hydrodynamic Facility – This will test the primary or fission stage of new warheads using steel instead of plutonium. Staff have been recruited for this facility, but the planning application has not yet been submitted.
- Assembly and Disassembly Facility – A new facility is due to be built at Burghfield. This will replace the current “Gravel Gerties” where the hazardous job of combining nuclear and high explosive components is carried out.
- Highly Enriched Uranium Facility – This would build the secondaries and radiation cases Scottish CND delegation to Aldermaston June 2006 of any future thermonuclear weapon.
- Plutonium Facility – The main plutonium handling facility, A90, will be refurbished.
Aldermaston have also been recruiting new staff. The number of people employed was due to increase by 350 each year from 2005 to 2008. Scientists, engineers and other key workers are being enticed to work in the nuclear bomb factory when they should be using their valuable skills on socially useful projects, such as tackling climate change.
The amount being spent each year on the Atomic Weapons Establishment is due to double, from £493 million in 2005/06 to £950 million in 2010 /11. The total amount allocated to the Atomic Weapons Establishment over the next three years, 2008/09 – 2010/11, is £2,650 million. Of this around £900 million is for routine running costs. The remainder, £1,750 million, is for building new facilities.
Des Browne assured MPs that the replacement of Trident would not be paid for out of the normal defence budget and that conventional forces would not be penalised to pay for new nuclear weapons. However most of the £1,750m cost of developing Aldermaston and Burghfield is coming out of the normal Defence Budget. Only £200 million of this is new additional money. So Aldermaston is being rebuilt at the expense of conventional forces.
The massive developments at Aldermaston and Burghfield are taking place so that AWE can manufacture new nuclear warheads. On 19 November Des Browne admitted for the first time that British scientists are discussing the design of the next US nuclear weapon, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), with their American counterparts. However Congress has cut all funding for this new warhead. On 26 December President Bush was forced to sign a spending Act which eliminated all expenditure on RRW. This will present a major problem for Aldermaston. British scientists would find it almost impossible to develop a new warhead without American help. After the US Presidential election it is possible that RRW might be revived. But if there is no new US warhead then Aldermaston’s plans will be thrown into disarray.
Funding for RRW was eliminated because of a concerted lobbying campaign in the US. It is imperative that we do all we can in Britain to stop the Government’s proposals for Aldermaston. In 1958 thousands of people marched from London to Aldermaston to say no to the atomic bomb. In Easter 2008 the nuclear bomb factory will again be at the centre of CND’s campaign. We cannot afford another 50 years under the cloud of the nuclear menace.
Jan 26 (Saturday) Trident , Trade Unions and Scotland’s Economy.
Speakers: Kate Hudson, Katy Clark MP, Bill Butler MSP, Bill Kidd MSP, Patrick Harvie MSP, Robert Brown MSPPhil McGarry, Steven Boyd, John Foster.
March 24 (Easter Monday) Aldermaston ‘Surround the Base’
Anniversary of the first march from London to the Atom Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston. A colourful day of protest with thousands of campaigners aiming to form a human cordon around Britain’s nuclear weapons factory. Speakers will address the crowd and travel around the base. Aldermaston has seen massive investment year after year in preparation to produce the next generation of nuclear bombs. Scottish CND will cover one of 5 gates around the base.
Buses from Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere - see website for details.