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Almost a year ago, parliament voted to replace Trident … or did they? If you read the fine print, and we hope you did, all MPs voted for was a new delivery system – new submarines, and the consideration of new Trident missiles. The decision on whether to develop new warheads will supposedly take place in the next parliament.

With the decision to go ahead with a new generation of submarines, BAe Systems Barrow yard recently announced they would be taking on 400 new staff, and media. reports suggest that “concept work for Trident replacement subs” is already underway, funded by a share of the extra £7.7 billion, identified for 2008-20011 in the October 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.

Fate [sic] a complit

However, with a public decision on warhead replacement several years away, why have the Atomic Weapons Establishments at Aldermaston and Burghfield – the UK’s nuclear weapons factories – been undergoing massive development and building new facilities since 2002?

If the decision to build a new warhead has not been taken, why are they researching the High Surety Warhead, the UK equivalent of the US Reliable Replacement Warhead? Why have they almost completed a new £183 million Orion laser facility - where they may replicate the conditions of a nuclear explosion - and offices for 1,400 new staff and contractors? Why have they installed a new supercomputer and, in the first week of February, successfully applied to build a new High Explosives Fabrication Facility?

From our side of the fence, it looks as though the UK’s Atomic Weapons Establishments are busy fitting themselves out to design, test and build a new generation of nuclear weapons. And they embarked on this course of action six years ago.

“We’re in the money!”

Industry reports suggest a whopping £12billion in AWE contracts are in the offing over the next decade and to-date big names like AMEC, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke, Costain, INSYS, Atkins and LaFarge have all picked up tidy sums for their part in developing the site. Back in 2006 AWE themselves compared the scale of their development plan to that of Heathrow’s Terminal 5.

Making a profit from Britian’s nuclear weapons programme has been with us since 1994, when the AWEs were given Government-Owned-Contractor-Operated (GOCO) status by the then Major government. Two joint venture companies have managed operations at the sites since and from 1 April 2000 AWE ML – a joint venture of Lockheed Martin, BNFL and SERCO – have had a 25-year contract worth £5.3bn.

BNFL’s one third stake in AWE­ ML is currently up for grabs, with two US companies, Fluor and Jacobs, emerging as the likely winners. Within a few months Britain's nuclear weapons programme will come under the operational control of a two-thirds US-based consortium.

However, they may find trouble ahead: the union Prospect is reportedly considering balloting on strike action over MoD plans for a five-fold increase in AWE workers’ pension contributions. AWPC has already offered to supply a brazier and placards for the picket line.

Meanwhile on the other side …

Following frenzied activity around the vote in March 2006, culminating –for us – in a four-hour blockade of Parliament Square on vote day, women from Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp(aign) (AWPC) have spent the last 12 months doing what we do best: causing trouble.

In a bid to eradicate the camp, new military land byelaws came into force at Aldermaston on 31 May 2007. Since their introduction, ten women have been arrested and the camp has taken a human rights-based judicial review of the decision to implement the byelaws to the High Court. The written judgement was expected as Tribune went to press.

Concerted action

Regular blockades of contractors working on the site have continued throughout the year, with groups from Trident Ploughshares and Faslane Peace Camp joining Block the Builders and camp women in nonviolent direct action.Spring 2007 also saw the first arrest under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act at Aldermaston. The trial is scheduled to begin at the end of February.

The Ministry of Defence Police Annual report, published in December 2007, recognised that the: “major building and investment programme at both Aldermaston and Burghfield has led to a significant increase in interest by anti-nuclear lobbying groups, such as Greenpeace, CND, Trident Ploughshares and Christian CND. Their protest activity and that of other affinity groupings is expected to increase as the programme develops”

Seize the time

Every day for almost six years, Aldermaston and Burghfield have been preparing for a new generation of nuclear warheads. The evidence is in plain sight and black and white. As with Polaris and Trident the first time round, the government has pushed Britain’s nuclear weapons programme along and only informed parliament and the public when it is far too late. While this government have sought to legitimise the indefensible by promising they would engage in a public consultation (which never quite happened) in leafy Berkshire the scientists and the construction industry carry on – business as usual.
With every bit of steel that goes up, every new foundation sunk, every cable laid, and every new warhead specialist recruited, time is running out.
Britain without a replacement for Trident? Its up to you.

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Notes
- Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp(aign) have held a monthly women-only peace camp outside AWE on the second weekend of the month for the past 23 years. * Phone: 07969 739 812 (UK mobile);
- On Easter Monday AWPC will take up residence at their historic home - Falcongate - and invite all women to join them.
- A partial list of recent AWE contracts is available at http://www.blockthebuilders.org.uk/gfx/ContractorsatAldermaston4.rtf