Aldermaston PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 29 May 2007 09:15
The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston, near Reading is at the heart of British nuclear weapons production. It is responsible for design, production, maintenance and decommissioning of Britain's nuclear warheads. Aldermaston cooperates extensively with nuclear weapons’ laboratories in the United States on research and development, and maintaining the UK's current Trident warheads.

Aldermaston is owned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), but since the early 1990s, AWE has had a GOCO status - Government Owned-Contractor Operated. So, although the MoD owns the site, private companies (AWE Management Ltd) run the day to day operations. From April 2000, AWE was run by British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), a private company run by the UK government, Lockheed Martin (the US company that also develops and produces the Trident missiles) and Serco (a UK company). In 2009 however, the government sold its BNFL share to a US company, Jacobs Engineering, so now AWE is two thirds run by US corporations. See CND’s response to this sale.

 

Burghfield

Atomic Weapons Establishment Burghfield, seven miles from Aldermaston, is responsible for assembling the UK's nuclear warheads. Nuclear components are transported by road in convoys from Aldermaston to Burghfield, there they are assembled and then transported to Coulport for deployment on Trident submarines.

 

aldermaston04_2.jpgNew Developments

In 2002, AWE Management Ltd published a plan to redevelop and build new facilities at the Aldermaston site. These developments are on a massive scale, equivalent to that of Heathrow Airport’s new Terminal Five. Costs are estimated to be in excess of £5bn and over one thousand additional personnel are being employed.

CND believes that many of the new facilities are being built to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons. These new developments at Aldermaston tie in with the parliamentary decision to develop a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines: Aldermaston will build the warheads for this new system.

Computer Facilities

New computer facilities are the focus of the new developments at Aldermaston. In 2002 the Blue Oak computer was installed and in 2006 an order was placed for a new £20 million computer called Larch. These facilities will give AWE one of the most powerful computer systems in Europe - possibly only exceeded by the supercomputers used in the US for their atomic weapons’ development. Computer simulations will be augmented by experimental data provided by other new facilities being built at Aldermaston.

Using these facilities, means that new nuclear warheads could be developed without the need for a nuclear weapon test explosion. This  kind of test is not allowed under the Comprehensive Nuclear –Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT); the UK has signed and ratified this treaty.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is a cornerstone of the international regime on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and an essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. Its total ban of any nuclear weapon test explosion will constrain the development and qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and end the development of advanced new types of these weapons.

Orion Laser

The old laser facility at the AWE site is being replaced by a new facility which is 1,000 times more powerful. This is likely to be used to gain a better understanding of the physics behind nuclear explosions and therefore aid the computer simulations that will be used in the design of new warheads. It is believed that scientists will work closely with the National Ignition Facility in the USA which has similar capabilities.

Hydrodynamic Testing - Core Punch Facility

This proposed facility would allow some of the extreme conditions found inside a nuclear explosion to be recreated in a laboratory setting. The results from such tests could then be used to improve computer simulations.

Material Sciences

New facilities are also planned to research the properties and structure of materials in order to gain a better understanding of how they behave inside a nuclear warhead.

New Production Facilities

The plans also include refurbishing the facilities to build the warheads. These include new facilities for handling plutonium, highly enriched uranium, tritium, high explosives and new warhead assembly facilities.

 

Working with other research establishments

AWE also works closely with universities and other laboratories in basic research that could contribute to the development of new nuclear weapons. The state-of-the-art facilities at the Aldermaston site are very attractive to researchers working on 'dual use' technologies, for example, new technologies which can be used for the enrichment of uranium but may also have other industrial uses.

 

The US connection

The current warhead used on the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system is widely believed to be based on the W76 warhead the US uses on their Trident system. Under the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement, Aldermaston scientists regularly take part in exchanges and experiments with their counterparts at US nuclear facilities, where there are also new research, development and building programmes.

 

Opposition

The first Aldermaston March was at Easter 1958 shortly after the formation of CND. Opposition to the site has continued ever since; regular actions are organised by the Aldermaston Women's Peace Camp(aign) .

CND demands an end to the production of nuclear warheads and the redeployment of staff and facilities to nuclear decommissioning.

   

Aldermaston Women's Peace Camp(aign)

Block the Builders

globalsecurity.org page on Aldermaston

Atomic Weapons Establishment official site
Atomic Weapons Establishment

Nuclear weapons and the United Kingdom

British replacement of the Trident system
Last Updated on Thursday, 07 January 2010 13:46