AWE Aldermaston continue to build while MoD and Treasury fight it out
As the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury squabble over who will fund the next generation of British nuclear weapons, the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston have submitted a planning application for a multi-million pound hydrodynamics facility. “Hydrus” is the latest in a series of new facilities to be constructed at Aldermaston since 2005. According to nuclear experts, the hydrodynamics complex is integral to the government’s programme to design, test and build a new nuclear warhead. [See Notes: Hydrus]
Construction work on the hydrodynamics facility, for which no costs have been published, is planned to start at Aldermaston in October ahead of the government’s October Comprehensive Spending Review, and the Strategic Defence Review, due to be published towards the end of 2010.[See Notes: Costs]
A parliamentary debate and decision on the future warhead system – something promised by the previous government – has not yet taken place.
Prior to finding themselves in the LibCon government, high profile members of both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties have openly called for a review of the Trident replacement programme, including the need for constant patrol of nuclear-armed submarines. Think tanks, campaigners – and 70% of the British public – already appear fairly convinced that the probable £76-97bn costs involved are simply not worth it.
While politicians argue about who will cough up for Britain’s weapons of mass destruction, AWE continue with their multi-billion pound investment programme as though the massive cuts in government spending do not apply to them.
AWPC is calling for a complete moratorium on all building work at Aldermaston until there has been a full and frank review of the entire programme and the real costs involved. Why should weapons be protected when schools, hospitals and other essential public services are about to take a beating?
Hydrus will be used to conduct experiments subjecting small amounts of materials used in a nuclear warhead, including non-fissile plutonium, to explosive shocks. This recreates the extreme levels of pressure that occur during the detonation of a nuclear weapon, when solid materials in the warhead behave like fluids. The results will be photographed by high powered X-ray machines, and the data analysed by AWE’s new array of supercomputers.
Hydrodynamic experiments enable the UK government to gather data, which would previously only have been available from underground nuclear weapons tests, on which a moratorium was agreed in 1991. AWPC believes that project Hydrus breaches the spirit of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, ratified by the UK in 1998 (though not yet in force).
The rebuilding programme at AWEs Aldermaston and Burghfield began in 2005 and AWE received an additional £1bn funding over 3 years. In 2009 the government announced a further £1bn per year additional investment to fund the redevelopment of AWE. There are no figures available for the costs of building Hydrus; a comparable facility at Los Alamos in the USA cost more than ten times the original budget. An enriched uranium handling facility, on which construction started at AWE earlier this year, has been estimated to cost between £300-£500 million.
The government’s current Trident “Value for Money” review -covering the timetable, submarine numbers, the number of missiles, missile tubes and warheads, infrastructure and other support costs, and the industrial supply chain - will go to the Cabinet Office before being considered by the National Security Council. The VFM report will inform the Strategic Defence Review and Comprehensive Spending Review, both of which are not due for publication until the next parliamentary session.
In addition, the Investment Approvals Board will not consider the Initial Gate until the autumn and a decision will be made towards the end of 2010. Parliament will be not be updated until after the Initial Gate decision is taken. The National Audit Office is already reviewing the financial assumptions
Since 2005 the majority of AWE’s previous planning applications – including for a High Explosive Fabrication Facility, a Warhead Assembly Facility and an Enriched Uranium Handing Facility – have been rubber-stamped by the West Berkshire Council Planning Committee. The majority of planning applications have Defence Exempt status, so that the MoD are not required to provide details of processes, health and safety and radioactive emissions in Environmental Impact Assessments submitted with such applications.
Aldermaston Women’s Peace Campaign
Hydrus: planning application and further documentation