NIS Update: February 2011


The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) has submitted a planning application to West Berkshire Council to extend the time limit for construction of a new conventional manufacturing rationalisation (CMR) facility at AWE Burghfield.

Planning permission for the facility was originally granted in August 2008, with building work scheduled to commence within three years.  AWE has stated that construction of the new facility has not yet commenced because resources have had to be directed towards higher priority projects, and so a new application has been submitted to extend the time limit before planning permission expires.

The new CMR facility will bring together a number of precision manufacturing processes needed to manufacture the non-nuclear parts of a nuclear weapon, and will contain facilities for various metalworking processes, ceramics machining, and quality assurance and inspection – activities which are are essential in the construction and refurbishment of nuclear warheads.  The facility will also be used to manufacture exact replicas of weapon components for use in research, development, and trials.

The new CMR facility is to be build towards the northern perimeter of the AWE Burghfield site, where a large construction enclave separate from the existing process buildings has been set up to  create a construction area for Project Mensa, the new warhead assembly / disassembly facility at Burghfield, and other associated new buildings.

A 'Defence Exemption Direction' was issued for the original planning application for the facility, meaning that key information about the processes to be undertaken in the facility and their environmental impacts was exempt from disclosure to the local planning authority.

If you would like to comment on the planning application you can send your views to West Berkshire Council by email or by letter to:

Planning Applications
West Berkshire Council
Council Offices
Market Street
RG14 5LD

Please quote the planning application reference number 11/00029/XCOMIN.


West Berkshire Council has made changes to the Core Strategy of its Local Development Framework following concerns raised by the Planning Inspector that an earlier draft of the Strategy had not taken into account the views of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on development in the vicinity of AWE sites.

HSE considers that population numbers in the Detailed Emergency Planning Zones (DEPZs) which surround each AWE site must remain below defined limits in order to ensure that emergency plans remain effective and risks to the public are minimised.

In the first formal acknowledgement by local authorities that emergency planning requirements for AWE will pose limits on development in the surrounding area, the West Berkshire Core Strategy has been modified to contain a new policy intended to preserve the demographic characteristics around the two AWE sites and ensure that the population does not exceed  HSE recommendations.

Planning applications for development of a specified size and distance from AWE sites will be referred to HSE for consultation, and applicants considering new development within the DEPZ will be strongly encouraged to enter into early discussions with the Council before submitting a planning application.

As the consultation zones for the AWE sites cross over into the neighbouring councils of Basingstoke and Deane Borough, Reading Borough, and Wokingham Borough, the four authorities will have to jointly monitor development proposals to assess whether new development can be safely accommodated or not.

The Councils will monitor housing completions and commitments through an Annual Monitoring Report and send the information to HSE to allow assessment of future development proposals within the DEPZs, and the boundaries of the zones will be kept under review.

HSE has advised West Berkshire Council that the level of development currently proposed in the Core Strategy for the East Kennet Valley – and in particular for development of 330 new houses in the Burghfield Common and Mortimer area – is acceptable and can be accommodated without any safety issues.


The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced that 'Project Hydrus', the planned new hydrodynamics research facility at AWE Aldermaston, will not be built.

In response to a Parliamentary Question by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Peter Luff, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, stated that construction activities for the Hydrus project would not be undertaken.  Instead, a joint Anglo-French hydrodynamics research facility will be built at Valduc in France as part of the 'Teutates' collaborative programme on warhead physics research announced during the Anglo-French summit in London on 2 November 2010.

In response to previous questions Ministers had stated that Project Hydrus would “not now proceed as originally envisaged”, but had stopped short of admitting that that the facility would not be built.  The AWE Local Liaison Committee has since been told that a Technology Development Centre – the UK's construction contribution to the Teutates programme – will be built on the site allocated to the Hydrus facility.

Cancellation of construction of Project Hydrus will result in short-term savings in spending at AWE.  Costings for the Teutates programme remain in their infancy, so it is not yet possible to say whether there will be an overall saving in AWE's hydrodynamics research costs over the long term at as result of Anglo-French collaboration.


The US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is set to see a funding increase of nearly billion in the 2012 financial year under the Obama administration's latest budget plans. The figure represents a 5.1% percent increase to the .2 billion the administration sought for the current budget year – which was itself a significant increase over the previous year.  

The funding increase represents the first step in the Obama administration's commitment to invest billion over the next decade to build new nuclear research and production facilities and overhaul the warhead stockpile – a promise given to Republican senators in return for their support in ratifying the New START arms control treaty at the end of last year.

The NNSA is responsible for maintaining the USA's arsenal of nuclear weapons, and its planned .8 billion budget for fiscal year 2012 includes an allocation of .6 billion for "weapons activities," aimed at ensuring the performance and reliability of the nation's atomic arsenal – an increase of 8.9% from fiscal year 2011.  In contrast, the agency's "defense nuclear nonproliferation" programme, which aims to prevent the global spread of nuclear materials, sees a cut in funding of more than 5%.

Funding has been allocated to support the ongoing life-extension programme for the W76 warhead, which is deployed on the US Navy's Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile, and the refurbishment of the B61 gravity bomb.  These life extension programmes would allow current nuclear warheads to remain in service for  a further three decades or more – raising questions about their compatibility with President Obama's declared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons – and could also result in increases to their military capabilities.  An ongoing study to evaluate future options for maintaining the W78 warhead carried by Minuteman 3 inter-continental ballistic missiles will also be funded.

Intriguingly, comments in the budget proposal on the programme for W88 warhead stockpile systems refer to co-operation with the UK.  The US is currently investigating a modified warhead design based on the W78 and W88 warheads with the aim of producing a modified warhead that can be deployed on both the Minuteman and the Navy’s Trident II D5 missiles. It is possible that the UK is collaborating in these studies as part of the process to undertake background research and prepare for development of a new warhead design to replace the current Trident warhead.

.7 billion is to be spent on infrastructure development projects at US nuclear warhead production sites, including design and construction work on a new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement complex at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee.

The budget proposal also includes funds for programmes to develop the next generation ballistic missile submarine reactor for the replacement to the US's Ohio class Trident submarines.


The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has published a consultation paper outlining the government's proposed approach to the long-term management of plutonium.

The UK currently stores about 112 tonnes of civil separated plutonium, derived largely from reprocessing activities that have been ongoing at Sellafield since the 1950s.  UK plutonium stocks are currently stored in purpose-built secure facilities, but to date the government has no long-term strategy on how to manage plutonium in the best interests of future generations.

The paper gives the government’s preliminary policy view on its preferred option for plutonium management, which is to re-use plutonium either in the UK or overseas in the form of mixed oxide (Mox) reactor fuel.  The UK's previous attempt to produce mixed oxide fuel at the Sellafield Mox Plant was plagued by technological and economic difficulties and was described recently in a confidential US embassy cable leaked by Wikileaks as “one of Her Majesty's Government's most embarrassing failures in British industrial history”.

The plutonium management consultation closes on 10 May and copy of the DECC report and consultation documents can be found here.


New government guidance on the decontamination of buildings, infrastructure and the environment exposed to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) materials has been published to inform emergency planners on how to deal with an accidental or deliberate CBRN release.

The document highlights the risks posed by an incident involving CBRN materials – loss of life, contamination of the built and open environment, disruption of society, and damage to the economy –  and advises local authorities and others on how to prepare plans to minimise the impacts of such an event and enable recovery afterwards.  It warns that a release of radioactive fallout “may affect large numbers of buildings over a wide area to the extent that they would require extensive decontamination. The Recovery Co-ordinating Group may therefore decide that relocating people, rather than attempting building decontamination, would be the preferred option”.

The guide explains the decontamination and waste management processes that would need to take place after an incident and identifies the roles and responsibilities of organisations that would be involved in the response and recovery following an incident.

The CBRN decontamination guidance can be downloaded from the Cabinet Office website here.


The annual Radioactivity in Food and the Environment (RIFE) report for 2009 has recently been published. The RIFE report gives results of a national radiation monitoring programme conducted by a number of government agencies giving a detailed assessment of levels of radioactivity in food and the environment and public exposure to radiation.
For results around AWE sites, the 2009 results demonstrate that public exposure to radiation around Aldermaston and Burghfield in 2009 remained below the legal limit; concentrations of radionuclides in food and environmental samples taken around each site were similar to previous years; and that radionuclide concentrations were low around both sites.

A five year review of RIFE data covering 2004-2008 which is included in the report shows that radiation doses to public around Aldermaston and Burghfield were less than 0.005 mSv over the period, measured against a limit of 1 mSv. The report also shows welcome downward trends in liquid and gaseous discharges from AWE, probably explained by the closure of the Pangbourne pipeline in 2005 and the decommissioning of the original tritium facility at Aldermaston.

A copy of the 2009 RIFE report can be found here.


The British American Security Council (BASIC) has set up an independent, cross-party commission to examine the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons policy and the issue of Trident renewal.  The Commission will be chaired by Lord Browne of Ladyton (Des Browne), former Labour Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Conservative Defence and Foreign Secretary, and Sir Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and Shadow Foreign Secretary.
The Commission will examine UK nuclear weapons policy and the international context within which it sits, the costs of replacing Trident, and a range of policy options aimed at maintaining UK national security.  It will take evidence from a number of expert bodies and is expected to report on its findings in early 2012.

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