Atomic Weapons Establishment

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The Atomic Weapons Establishment is responsible for the design, manufacture and support of warheads for the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent. AWE plc is responsible for the day-to-day operations of AWE. AWE plc is owned by BNFL, Lockheed Martin UK and Serco through AWE Management Ltd. The company is based close to Aldermaston (although the nearest town is Tadley in Hampshire), with major facilites at Burghfield.


[edit] Organisational History

The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) was established on 1 April 1950 at Aldermaston (formerly RAF Aldermaston). AWRE was initially part of the Ministry of Supply. In 1954 it was transferred to the newly created United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA). In 1971, the production activities of UKAEA were transferred to the newly-created British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL).

In 1973 AWRE was transferred to the Procurement Executive of the UK Ministry of Defence. In 1987, AWRE was combined with the two Royal Ordnance Factories at ROF Burghfield and ROF Cardiff to form the AWE. In 1989, the UK government announced its intention to find a suitable private company to run AWE under a Government Owned/Contractor Operated arrangement.

[edit] Private Management

In 1993 the government awarded a contract to Hunting-BRAE, a consortium of Hunting Engineering, Brown Root and AEA. During Hunting BRAE's management AWE decommissioned the RAFs WE177 freefall nuclear bomb. In 1998 the company suffered two prosecutions for safety breaches, one for discharge of tritium into a nearby stream [1] and another for an incident where two workers inhaled plutonium.

In 1999 the company lost the contract to AWE Management Ltd, (AWE ML) a consortium of BNFL, Lockheed Martin and Serco which assumed responsibility on April 1 2000. This does not represent privatisation, the Ministry of Defence still owns all the AWE sites and a Golden Share in AWE plc. Critics have pointed out that BNFL and Lockheed Martin do not have perfect safety records either. BNFL has suffered embarrassing revelations of falsified quality checks in nuclear fuels and Lockheed has been the subject of scathing reports on the operation of U.S. nuclear facilities. Lockheed's failings include safety concerns at the Y-12 facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, an American weapons plant similar in certain ways to Aldermaston.

Other Atomic Weapons Establishment sites could be found at ROF Burghfield, Burghfield and ROF Cardiff, Llanishen, Cardiff, the former Royal Ordnance Factories, although ROF Cardiff is now closed.

A significant programme of investment is taking place over the three year period from 2005 to 2008, of about £350 million per year, to provide assurance that the existing Trident missile warhead is reliable and safe throughout its intended in-service life. The new facilities and extra supporting infrastructure are required in the absence of live nuclear testing no longer allowed under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. [2]

AWE cooperates with the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory in carrying out subcritical nuclear tests at the Nevada underground test site to obtain scientific data to maintain the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons. Subcritical tests are not banned by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons. The most recent test took place in February 2006. [3]

The cost of decommissioning AWE facilities when they become redundant, including nuclear waste disposal, is estimated at £3.4 billion in 2005. [4]

The plant is the final destination for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament's annual march from Trafalgar Square, London. The first Aldermaston march was conceived by the Direct Action Committee and took place in 1958. There is currently a monthly women's peace camp held outside the Establishment to protest against its existence.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

Atomic Weapons Establishment

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