NIS Update – Further delays in Gravel Gerties replacement

Nuclear Information Service

30 Westwood Road Southampton SO17 1DN
tel/fax: +44 (0)2380 554434 m: 07880 557035

NIS UPDATE 24th September 2008
Further Delay in Replacing Gravel Gerties (GGs) Warhead Assembly / Disassembly facilities


The HSE Nuclear Installation Inspectorate (NII) has considered the AWE Burghfield ‘Gravel Gertie' bunkers to be sub-standard for several years. These High Security Area workshops, under tons of gravel, are where nuclear warheads are assembled and disassembled. Whatever the future of UK nuclear weapons policy, a safe facility in which to take warheads apart is essential. Currently, live warhead work here remains at a very low level after work was stopped for safety reasons between the July 2007 flood and April 2008.The NII is continuing its ‘permissioning regime', to allow only essential warhead work upon application from AWE for each operation. This is to continue until all outstanding safety shortfalls are met.


New GGs were proposed in AWE's Development Plan in 2002, but design and location decisions have failed to be agreed by all parties – the MoD, AWEML and the NII. Each time a date is proposed for AWE to finalise plans it is missed. The last expected date, August 2008, was no exception. West Berkshire Council Planning Committee now expects an Application for new GGs to be submitted in December 2008. In contrast, there is no delay in building new facilities to enable a new generation of warheads to be developed and to check that materials will go critical in current Trident warheads if they are used.


The constant risk in the GGs is of a criticality event causing a nuclear chain reaction that would devastate the workforce, the community and the environment. External remedial work now being done to patch up the roof may keep the rain out, but it will not improve the basic structure, which is considered unacceptable by the regulators.


Failure to replace these workshops in a timely manner remains a national scandal. Yet in its August in-house magazine, AWE Today, AWE assures its workforce that a whole office section, with 16 key ‘interfaces' is devoted to "timely and authoritative decision-making" through liaison with the MoD ‘customer'. The article then invites staff to "share [ ] experience you have had with MoD" aimed at "improving how we work in partnership with the MoD". The report concludes,


"The work of our customer interfaces is crucial. Your role is to support

them by maintaining their awareness of your work with the MoD".


In plain English: AWE staff who are supposed to liase strategically with MoD do not know who or how the workforce actually works with the MoD – and would someone please tell them! It is hardly surprising that communication is a problem when management is conducted through magazine articles.



NIS Updates

Previous issues of NIS Updates are available on the NIS website at

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. More information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.