Nuclear Information Service
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Southampton SO17 1DN Britain
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NIS UPDATE …. July 2007
What does and does not go on at AWE Burghfield
AWE Burghfield and Aldermaston are run by the same consortium of BNFL, Lockheed Martin and Serco for the MOD. Trident warheads built at Aldermaston are transported to its brother site at Burghfield for the final assembly with the detonating high explosive. Missiles are not produced here. US built ballistic missiles carried by the four Trident submarines based at Faslane are loaded in Kings Bay, Georgia, USA and never leave the submarine on British soil. They are periodically serviced in the USA.
Nuclear warhead convoys transport the assembled warheads to the nuclear weapons arsenal at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot, Coulport in Scotland where around 110 are stored. Up to 48, with varying power, are out on an operational submarine at any one time, according to the MOD. On return from a 3-month patrol, these warheads are unloaded and stored at Coulport, and the replacement patrol loaded with a different consignment of warheads. Thus up to 96 warheads are being turned around at the changeover. Initial safety tests can be made on warheads returned from sea, and the rest of the stockpile at Coulport. If any give cause for concern, they are returned to AWE. Around 6 warheads are also returned to Burghfield on a rota basis for disassembly every three or four months, although more are expected to be decommissioned now, to get the numbers down from the estimated 170 odd to the projected figure of 160, given in the December 2006 Government White Paper. At Burghfield, the high explosive and nuclear components are separated and the nuclear package returned to Aldermaston where it is examined and serviced or decommissioned. The occasional warhead built from scratch to keep the skills base going will also be assembled at Burghfield. Complete warheads are not stored at either Burghfield or Aldermaston, only at Coulport. There is no other nuclear storage site or delivery system in Britain since the withdrawal of WE-177 freefall bombs from RAF and naval service in the early 1990s.
Compromises in Safety at AWE Burghfield
The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) of the HSE is the regulator for all nuclear sites in Britiain and AWE has its own NII inspectors. Currently, the NII has serious concerns about safety at AWE Burghfield and want the facility replaced. The ‘Gravel Gerties’ are where high explosives and nuclear warhead components are connected or disconnected. The colloquial name reflects the facility’s construction whereby a network of underground engineering workshops and component storage spaces are covered by mounds of gravel as a public safety measure to try to ameliorate the effects of an accident causing a catastrophic nuclear explosion. Human error, facility failure, component failure or lightening are the risks at Burghfield.
Focus on AWE Burghfield
On Saturday 9th June a revival of the weekend Burghfield Women’s Peace Camp was set up at the entrance to The Mearings leading to AWE Burghfield on side of the Reading Road. A splendid Cocktail Party was held from 6pm to highlight the contrast between life and the deadly intent within the AWE site. The next camp will be on 6-8th July. Visitors and /or donations are always welcome, and it is a women only space after dark. See www.aldermaston.net.