NIS Update: February / March 2010


At the beginning of February the Ministry of Defence published the Green Paper 'Adaptability and Partnership: Issues for the Strategic Defence Review', outlining a series of key questions on defence issues that will need to be addressed by the next government.

All three major parties have promised to undertake a defence review after the forthcoming general election, given the pressure on the UK's public finances and over-commitment of the armed forces as a result of the war in Afghanistan.  Green Paper will pave the way for a full defence review after the election, and makes it clear that Britain can no longer afford its current military operations and equipment programmes, facing “hard choices” ahead.  Treasury sources have said that a “good case” scenario for defence in future budgets will be a “flat cash” settlement.

The Green Paper identifies a number of questions that the Strategic Defence Review  will have to address, including:


  • What contribution should the armed forces make in ensuring security within the UK?


  • How could we more effectively employ the armed forces in support of wider efforts to prevent conflict and strengthen international stability?
  • Do our current international defence and security relationships require rebalancing in the longer term?
  • Should we integrate our forces with those of key allies and partners?

The only weapons programme specifically mentioned in the Green Paper is the planned replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system.  The Green Paper reaffirms the case for replacing Trident which was outlined in the government's 2006 White Paper 'The ture of the UK Nuclear Deterrent'.

The Labour Party has said it would exclude Trident from the scope of a future defence review,  with Ministry of Defence officials stating: "There is no sacred cow besides Trident".  The Conservatives have been more circumspect, and David Cameron has said that no area should be "exempt" from review but none "should be particularly singled out".  The Liberal Democrat Defence spokesperson, Nick Harvey, has described the GPaper’s agenda as “unbalanced” and has expressed concern that excluding Trident from future review threatens the sustainability of the whole defence budget.

The Ministry of Defence has also published a new 'Strategy for Acquisition Reform' alongside the Green Paper to help in implementing the recommendations of last year's independent review of defence procurement, which was carried out by former Ministerial advisor Bernard Gray.  The strategy aims to improve the management of procurement programmes for military equipment..

The Defence Green Paper can be downloaded here and responses to the key questions asked in the paper can be logged at the Defence Consultations website.


A recent nuclear submarine emergency exercise organised by local councils and the Royal Navy in Dorset resulted in chaos when residents failed to realise it was just a practice run and mistook emergency test drills for the real thing.  According to news reports the panic started when householders received notices advising them of action to take in the event of a radiation emergency, co-inciding with unconnected loudspeaker van announcements from the local water company warning that water supplies were to be cut off.  Many elderly residents were frightened and distressed by the incident and the emergency services were bombarded with phone calls from members of the public asking for more information.

Portland is the site of an operational berth for the Royal Navy's nuclear powered submarines and a nuclear accident emergency plan covers contingency arrangements in the event of a release of radiation from a submarine.  Regular exercises to test the plan are required under the terms of the Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations 2001 (REPPIR).

The Nuclear Accident Emergency Plan exercise, which was led by Dorset County Council, the Royal Navy, Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the borough council, involved a leaflet drop to 1,200 residents living within 1.5 km of Portland Port.  The distribution of leaflets was a precursor to a larger exercise planned for April 27 to test the Portland Port off-site reactor emergency plan and the Royal Navy’s emergency plan.


West Berkshire Council granted planning permission for Project Pegasus, the new enriched uranium facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston, at its Eastern Area Planning Committee meeting in February.

Despite receiving over 1400 letters of objection – a record for a planning application at an AWE site – only one member of the committee voted against allowing the development to go ahead.

West Berkshire Council has since been heavily criticised by neighbouring Reading Borough Council for its handling of the planning application, with Reading Borough describing West Berkshire's failure to consult it over the application as “unacceptable”.  Reading, Basingstoke and Deane, and nearby Slough Councils all  wrote to West Berkshire expressing concerns about the enriched uranium facility.

A planning application for another major facility at AWE Aldermaston is scheduled to be submitted to West Berkshire Council in April.  The application will be for a new hydrodynamics facility – Project Hydrus – which will test the flow characteristics of materials at very high pressures.  Research carried out in the new facility will be used to generate data for warhead upgrade and design work, which would otherwise have been obtained from nuclear weapons tests, now banned under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.


The future of the controversial Boundary Hall site adjacent to AWE Aldermaston will be determined by a public inquiry following a decision by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to call the application in.

On February 10 Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s Development Control Committee approved plans to build over 100 homes at Tadley’s Boundary Hall site, located directly opposite the AWE perimeter fence.  This was contrary to advice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which subsequently asked the Secretary of State to call the planning application for the site in.  The Secretary of State has now decided that the matter should be determined at a public inquiry.

The Boundary Hall site falls within a three kilometre Detailed Emergency Planning Zone surrounding AWE Aldermaston, within which HSE is keen to limit population numbers.  Basingstoke and Deane councillors concluded that the benefits that the development would bring to the local community outweighed the cautious approach taken by the HSE.

The planning application for housing development at the site has already been referred to the Secretary of State once before, following a decision to grant planning permission last year.  Basingstoke and Deane Council was directed to consider the application for a second time, but councillors declined to reverse their earlier decision.

A date has yet to be set for the public inquiry.


AWE has undertaken a Best Practical Environmental Options (BPEO) study on the future of the Pangbourne Pipeline and will be publishing the study and consulting on options for decommissioning the pipeline in the near future.  The pipeline, which is now closed, for many years transported radioactively contaminated effluent from Aldermaston to the River Thames near Pangbourne.

The BPEO study will put forward a number of options for decommissioning the pipeline and will present AWE's preferred solution for the future of the pipeline.  NIS understands that a potential solution previously favoured by AWE – cleaning the pipe by circulating a chemical solution to remove radioactive scale which has accumulated over the years – has now been deemed not to be feasible in the light of the poor condition of the pipe and the pressure required to circulate the cleaning solution.

A copy of the study will be placed on the Environment Agency's public consultation register and local landowners will also be asked for their views.

A short length of the pipeline crossing the Sulham Brook is to be removed at the request of Pangbourne Parish Council.  The pipeline crosses the brook in a concrete sleeve just before entering the pump house at Pangbourne which discharges into the Thames.  The section of pipeline is to be removed as part of flood defence works aimed at removing structures in the brook which obstruct the flow of water.  The work  will take place with the approval of the Environment Agency.


A Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Nuclear Information Service has shown that the regulatory agencies responsible for controlling safety and environmental standards at AWE have taken enforcement action against the company 18 times since 2004.

By far the most vigorous enforcement agency was the Environment Agency, which took action against AWE on 14 occasions over the six year period.  Action was taken on three other occasions by the HSE's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and once by the HSE's Field Operations Directorate.   

The most common form of enforcement action was a warning letter, with warning letters being sent for 13 of the incidents.  Formal Improvement Notices were issued on four occasions, and an Enforcement Notice was issued by the Environment Agency following an incident in 2005.


The Ministry of Defence has revealed that spending on the programme to develop a successor to Trident – a replacement for the Vanguard class submarines – has so far cost the taxpayer £380 million.

In response to a Parliamentary Question from Dai Davies MP asking how much had been spent on the Initial Gate for replacing Trident submarines, Bob Ainsworth, Secretary of State for Defence, replied:  “The final spend on reaching Initial Gate cannot be calculated until after that point is reached; however, the total spend on the replacement submarine and associated propulsion system since the beginning of April 2007 to the end of December 2009 is some £380 million.”

This works out at well over a third of a million pounds per day – the price of a brand new, fully equipped, energy efficient community centre – since the Trident replacement project started.  The money is being spent on the 'concept phase' of the project – defining options and possibilities for the design of the new submarines.


A recent Parliamentary Question has revealed that there have been five recorded breaches of air exclusion zones around licensed nuclear installations since 2006.  Three of these incidents took place over the Atomic Weapons Establishment sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield.

The first recorded incident took place on 29 January 2006 at AWE Aldermaston.  The matter was investigated but no further action was taken as no witnesses to the incident came forward.  The second incident took place at AWE Burghfield on 17 July 2006, after which it was decided that there was “insufficient evidence to proceed”.  The third case took place on 23 January 2007 at Aldermaston, after which the pilot thought to be involved was reminded of his obligations under the Air Navigation (Restriction of Flying) (Nuclear Installations) Regulations 2002.

Two further incidents took place over the Springfields nuclear plant near Preston and the Dungeness nuclear power station in Kent, both in 2007.


Over the last few weeks we have been upgrading NIS's presence on the internet.   The NIS website now includes a blog site which is frequently updated with news and opinion on defence and nuclear issues, so it is well worth checking the site on a regular basis.  Our Facebook site contains a video and image selection which complements the content of the NIS website, and you can also follow NIS on Twitter to keep up to date with the latest information about the UK's nuclear weapons programme.

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