The Nuclear Information Service (NIS) has branded plans for a new purpose-built enriched uranium handling facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston as a half a billion pound white elephant.
A planning application for 'Project Pegasus', the new facility at Aldermaston, is to be advertised by West Berkshire Council this week, but NIS considers the new development to be unnecessary and unaffordable and a potential obstacle to progress at forthcoming arms control talks.
The new facility is scheduled to come into operation in 2016 and will cost around half a billion pounds to design and build, at a time when deep cuts are planned in public services. Apart from a limited number of temporary construction jobs, the project will not generate any new jobs at AWE Aldermaston, where non-technical staff are currently facing redundancy as a result of a management cost-cutting programme.
NIS is concerned that construction of the new facility sends out a clear signal that the UK intends to develop a new generation of nuclear warheads at Aldermaston, running the risk of wrecking President Obama's global initiative to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce the number of nuclear weapons worldwide.
The need for Project Pegasus was identified when AWE assumed it would be designing and building a new nuclear warhead between 2010 and 2020. However, the credit crunch, international moves to control nuclear weapons, and the demise of the USA's warhead replacement programme have all combined to make it far more likely that AWE's role will be the maintenance and decommissioning of existing warheads, rather than the construction of new ones.
NIS Director Peter Burt said: “AWE's planned enriched uranium facility is a white elephant legacy of the Bush and Blair years which is no longer needed to support the UK's nuclear weapons programme.
“At a time when public services for local families face deep cuts, the sums of money being spent to build nuclear weapons at AWE are spiralling upwards with no end in sight.
“AWE could do the same job at a fraction of the cost by refurbishing existing facilities, without wasting half a billion pounds of taxpayers money on an expensive new pet project for its scientists.
“With the developing climate of optimism on the global control of nuclear weapons, now is not the time for the government to be upgrading nuclear facilities at Aldermaston and commissioning new weapons to replace Trident, risking wrecking hopes for disarmament.”
Download a copy of NIS's full briefing about Aldermaston's new enriched uranium facility below, and read previously unreleased classified documents about the investment decisions underpinning the project which have been released by the Ministry of Defence to NIS under the Freedom of Information Act.