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AWE - background

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston has always been at the centre of British nuclear weapons production. And from the marches of the 1950s and 1960s to present day, the site has attracted a fluctuating amount of interest from anti-nuclear campaigners, environmentalists and anti-militarists.

AWE Plc (the company), at the Aldermaston site, specifically, is currently responsible for the production, maintenance and (eventual) decommissioning of Britain's Trident warheads. It is also engaged in developing other areas of nuclear science: including laser technology and materials testing. AWE also retains the capacity for developing a new generation of nuclear weapons, should the British government decide to upgrade/replace Trident at some point in the future (See the campaigns section for more on this).

Aldermaston is owned by the British government, specifically the Ministry of Defence, but since the early 1990s AWE has had "GOCO" status, that is Government Owned - Contractor Operated. This means that while the Ministry own the site, private companies manage day to day operations, and somehow (we've never quite figured this one out), try to make a profit. This status also applies to AWE Burghfield - Aldermaston's sister site, located approximately seven miles away. At Burghfield, high explosives (necessary to detonation) are packed into the warheads (and also removed - for maintenance and in decommissioning). Burghfield is also an occasional home to the nuclear warhead convoy - "greens" (when it pops by to collect/deliver warheads for deployment/servicing). Formerly based at RAF Wittering, the green warhead convoys now have a permananent home at Aldermaston. The site has is also home to Special Nuclear Materials convoy vehicles ("Blues"). These small trucks trundle around Britain with the MoD's "Special Escort Group", collecting/depositing nuclear materials. Their favourite destinations include: Sellafield (BNFL, Cumbria), Chapelcross (MoD reactor, Scottish borders) Harwell (AEATech, Oxfordshire) and Rolls Royce Nuclear (submarine nuclear reactor manufacturers, Derby).

For seven years, until April 2000, the AWEs were managed by the Hunting-BRAE consortium (Hunting Plc, Brown & Root and AEATech). However since Hunting-BRAE's contract expired on 31 March 2000 the government chose a new consortium to manage the site from 1 April 2000. This consortium is comprised of BNFL, Lockheed Martin and Serco. Most British activists probably know a thing or two about BNFL and Lockheed, while Serco may be less well known. Lockheed are one of the biggest weapons manufacturers in the world (responsible for the Trident missile bodies, the B2 stealth bomber, and manage several US nuclear instillations such as Oak Ridge in Tennessee). Serco are a "facilities management" company who are the beneficiaries of many British PPP and PFI contracts, particularly in the field of private prisons, rail and hospitals. Around 30% of Serco's turnover comed from defence contracts. All three have websites where you can find out more information about their dodgy corporate goings-on.

In terms of waste, AWE Aldermaston is engaged in burning, burying, flushing and storing all grades of radioactive waste. BNFL's Drigg site and Southampton's Shanks incinerator have contracts with AWE, for burying and burning respectively, other waste is deposited into small brooks which flow from the site itself, and previously through the (now closed) Pangbourne pipeline, where it was deposited into the Thames.

Aldermaston has many unpleasant features, including "hot-spots" (from historic dumpings/accidents), chemical contamination of parts of the site and its environs, and a large store of radioactive waste on-site. Both sites do have dangerous areas, both intended and otherwise.

In 2002 AWE published a "Site Development Strategy Plan" in which they outlined a massive building programme for new facilities across the site. This, combined with the recruitment of new warhead specialists and additionasl government funding, lead AWPC to believe that the MoD were gearing up for a policy announcement on a replacement for Trident, something which, three years later, the governemnt has confirmed it will do within the lifetime of the current parliament. For more details about resistance to the "next generation", please visit the "tng" pages.