NIS Update: January 2010


Following a series of claims and counter-claims about the timetable for announcing the 'Initial Gate' decision for the programme to replace the UK's Trident nuclear weapons programme, defence ministers have finally made an unambiguous announcement that the decision is to be delayed by “a few months”.

The Initial Gate decision for Trident's successor marks the end of the concept phase of the project, and would commit the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to a firm option to replace Trident.  Design work would then commence before the 'Main Gate' for the project is reached, and approval for construction work is given.

In November 2008 the National Audit Office reported that Initial Gate approval for the project to replace Trident was timetabled for September 2009.  Defence Minister Quentin Davies subsequently confirmed that the Initial Gate report would be published in Autumn 2009.

However, in July 2009 press reports stated that the Initial Gate decision had been delayed, with no further money to be spent or decisions taken until after the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in April 2010.  In response, 10 Downing Street issued a statement rebutting the reports, announcing that: “The policy remains as set out in the 2006 White Paper, and there has been no change to the timetable”.  In October Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth stated: “There has been no decision to delay Initial Gate because of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference” in response to a Parliamentary Question.

Earlier this month journalist Rob Edwards reported in the Sunday Herald newspaper that “further time” was needed before a decision could be taken on the design of the replacement submarines, and that the decision will not now be taken until July – after  the forthcoming general election.  This view was based on a statement in an official summary of Defence Board meetings held on 26 November and 10 December 2009, which reported: “The Board also took stock of progress on the successor submarine programme, and the challenges that remained before it could be initially considered by the Investment Approvals Board next July.”  A response from the MoD downplayed the significance of the news, stating that the summary was “based on an early draft of the Defence Board minutes which did not fully describe the position – this will be amended when the final minutes are published”.

However, Ministers have at last confirmed to Parliament that the Initial Gate decision is to be delayed.  On 11 January Quentin Davies told Parliament: “This is an incredibly important decision and we need to get it right. We have come up with one or two possible new technical options for the design of the successor class submarine, and we will need a few more months to evaluate those fully before we take a decision”.  He went on to say: “As soon as we have gone through all the various technical options – one or two have arisen recently and we have to examine them seriously and profoundly – we will come to a decision about the right technical solution for the design of the successor class submarine. We will then go through what we call "initial gate" and we will make an announcement to the House at that time, and that is a matter of a few months away.”

The recently published Gray report into defence procurement (see below) mentions a number of cost lines for projects in the Ministry of Defence's Equipment Procurement Plan representing major new projects associated with Trident replacement which have been added to the plan since the 2007 planning round.  These are:

  • Successor Platform (P900455000): Next generation of nuclear deterrent submarine.
  • New generation nuclear propulsion plant (P900459000): Successor platform nuclear propulsion plant
  • Command and control  (P900456000): Successor platform command and control system
  • Core production capability (New core factory) (P900458000): Regeneration of the Submarine Nuclear Core Manufacturing Capability

Quentin Davies' replies suggest that decisions on these projects will be consolidated into a single Initial Gate decision on Trident replacement, although it is likely that decisions will be needed on the way forward for each sub-project before initial Gate.  His reply also gives a commitment that Parliament will be informed of the outcome of the Initial Gate deliberations

Scottish CND has prepared a detailed report and timeline on the Initial Gate process for Trident replacement.



A damning official report has highlighted inefficiencies in the defence procurement programme which lead to billions of pounds being wasted every year.

The 'Review of Acquisition for the Secretary of State for Defence', commissioned by former defence secretary John Hutton and led by Bernard Gray, a former ministerial adviser, has found that the Ministry of Defence is wasting between £1.5bn and £2.5bn per year on equipment purchasing. The report was due to have been published before MPs broke up for the summer recess but its release was delayed until October 2009 on the orders of 10 Downing Street.

The review concludes that “the Ministry of Defence has a substantially overheated equipment programme, with too many types of equipment being ordered for too large a range of tasks at too high a specification. This programme is unaffordable on any likely projection of future budgets.”

An investigation of the defence equipment spending programme by independent consultants working for the review team found that, on average, projects cost 40% more than they were originally expected to, and are delivered 80% later than first estimates predicted. In sum, this is expected to add up to a cost overrun of approximately £35bn and an average overrun of nearly 5 years.

The review found that the armed services are encouraged to bid for as much equipment as they can and underestimate the cost because there are no specific penalties for overruns.  Ministers are unwilling or unable to say no because of the political implications of cutting major programmes, while civil servants lack the skills and authority to manage complex projects efficiently.

The report recommends holding a Strategic Defence Review in the first session of each new Parliament; agreeing a rolling 10-year budget for the MoD, and conducting an annual independent audit to ensure that spending remains affordable.  It also suggests that the Defence Equipment and Support agency which buys and supports military equipment should be outsourced to the private sector in order to improve delivery.

“Britain’s fiscal position is so bad that some experts predict that the next national defence review could be as important as the 1967 decision to withdraw from east of Suez,” according to Clara Marina O'Donnell of the Centre for European Reform.  Defence analysts have suggested that, to balance the books in the longer term, the MoD may have to scale back plans for new super-aircraft carriers, the joint strike fighter and other aircraft programmes, and accept a much less ambitious successor for the current Trident nuclear weapons system.


The Scottish Government's Working Group on Scotland Without Nuclear Weapons has now completed its studies, and the group's report was published alongside the Scottish Government's response in a low key announcement made in November.

The Working Group's report examines the economic and employment impacts of a decision to remove nuclear weapons from HM Naval Base Clyde, examines opinions on the legality of nuclear weapons, considers the adequacy of environmental regulation at HM Naval Base Clyde, and considers how Scotland could contribute to promoting peace and reconciliation.

The Scottish Government has welcomed the Working Group's report, and repeated its opposition to the possession and use of nuclear weapons. It has pledged to undertake a number of steps to make progress on matters raised by the Working Group.

  • The Scottish Government's response to the report pledges to pursue the Ministry of Defence to collect and share data on economic and employment issues relating to HM Naval Base Clyde.
  • The Government will review the Working Group's findings on regulatory issues for nuclear bases in Scotland and continue to explore further what actions can be taken in this area.
  • It will write to the UK government to seek the removal of defence related exemptions from the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 and request that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) should be responsible for regulating defence establishments in Scotland.
  • It will aim to clarify whether regulatory matters such as the requirement for a strategic environmental appraisal and compliance with the REPPIR and PIRER regulations apply to military nuclear programmes.
  • The Scottish Government will ask the Ministry of Defence to consider informing local authorities about the transport of nuclear weapons through their regions, and will share relevant information with emergency response organisations.
  • It will consider the contribution that the Scottish Government can make to peace and reconciliation initiatives.
  • It will also review the role that Scotland could play in terms of engaging with Non-Proliferation Treaty signatory nations.
  • The Government's response also takes the view that the legality of nuclear weapons in Scotland remains governed in law by the decision in Lord Advocate's Reference No. 1 of 2000.

The Working Group's report and the generally positive response from Scottish ministers has been welcomed by peace and disarmament organisations, although  many feel that the Scottish Government should go further and prepare an action plan outlining the precise steps it will take to implement the recommendations from the Working Group's report.  A coalition of peace and disarmament campaign groups is planning to write to the Scottish Government recommending more robust action to implement the report's findings, including undertaking a review of the Lord Advocate's Reference on the legality of nuclear weapons.


The two Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire have been included on a shortlist of twelve sites where the Ministry of Defence is considering storing radioactive waste from decommissioned nuclear powered submarines.

The locations of the twelve sites have not been made public by the Ministry of Defence, but can easily be deduced from information prepared for the Ministry's Submarine Dismantling Project.  The provisional list of sites includes five civil nuclear licensed sites owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and seven military nuclear sites.

The NDA has concluded that it is technically credible to store radioactive waste from dismantled submarines at its sites at Sellafield in Cumbria, Harwell in Oxfordshire, Bradwell in Essex, Berkeley in Gloucestershire, Winfrith in Dorset, and Dounreay and Hunterston A in Scotland.  Two of these sites have since been dropped from the shortlist, although it is not known which ones.   The NDA report listing the sites  anticipates difficulties in developing a store for the submarine waste, stating that “Gaining planning consent for the storage of third party waste packages within an NDA waste store is likely to be regarded as contentious by local authorities and communities,” and warning that “Obtaining suitable planning consents cannot be guaranteed.”

The MoD is also considering seven military sites as potential stores for the radioactive waste: Coulport, Faslane and Rosyth in Scotland, two locations at the Devonport naval dockyard, and two sites in Berkshire – the Atomic Weapons Establishments at Aldermaston and Burghfield.

Two of the candidate sites – Rosyth and Devonport – have also been earmarked as potential sites for dismantling redundant nuclear powered submarines.

The Ministry of Defence has written to local authorities and MPs in the area of each of the potential storage and dismantling sites and has arranged meetings to brief them on the Submarine Dismantling Project and choice of candidate sites.  A Concept Briefing meeting with councillors from West Berkshire's Executive Committee, local ward members for Aldermaston and Burghfield, and Wokingham MP John Redwood took place to discuss the proposals on 15 January at West Berkshire Council's offices.

Fifteen vessels have been retired from service by the Navy since its first nuclear powered submarine entered service in 1963, and are currently moored at naval dockyards at Rosyth in Scotland and Devonport at  Plymouth. Each submarine contains a reactor compartment which is about the size of two double-decker buses and is heavily contaminated with radioactivity. The submarines and their reactor compartments would be  dismantled and the scrap then placed in storage at one or more of the sites on the MoD shortlist.


The planning application for the contested Boundary Hall planning application close to the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston will once again be considered by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council at a meeting of the Council's Development Control Committee on 10th February.

Planning permission for a housing development at the Boundary Hall site, close to the AWE West Gate, was granted by the Council in July 2009. However, because of concerns over population increases in the detailed emergency planning zone surrounding Aldermaston, the Health and Safety Executive asked for the planning application to be 'called in' for examination by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.  The Secretary of State subsequently issued an Article 14 letter which means the Council cannot approve the application without his authorisation.

Following discussions between Council officers and HSE, the application has now been referred back to Basingstoke and Deane's Development Control Committee.  A review of information about population growth in sectors of the emergency planning zone towards the south of AWE Aldermaston has shown that an original estimate by HSE that there had been a 240% increase in population in the area between 1997 and 2008 was incorrect, and that the actual population growth in the area is now estimated to be approximately 17%.

However, HSE is continuing to advise against the application as the population is approaching unacceptably high limits within the inner emergency planning zone surrounding AWE Aldermaston.  Council officers are recommending that planning permission should be refused, but the developer, Cala Homes, is presenting a strong case in favour of its application.

HSE is calling for local planning authorities around the two AWE sites to strengthen their role in controlling population levels within the detailed emergency planning zones for each site, and has requested AWE to assist by facilitating a more efficient and timely consultation response in respect of planning applications and during the preparation of local development frameworks, and also by working with stakeholders to monitor population characteristics around the Aldermaston and Burghfield sites.


A planning application for Project Pegasus – the proposed new Enriched Uranium handling facility at AWE Aldermaston – was submitted to West Berkshire Council by the Ministry of Defence at the end of November.

The formal consultation period for the application ended on 15 January, but West Berkshire has said that it will continue to accept comments about the application beyond this deadline.  To date over 1000 objections to the planning application have been received by the Council.

NIS is concerned that the MoD has not followed its own procedures before submitting the planning application, as Ministerial clearance for taking an alternative approach to the preparation of a full environmental impact assessment report was not obtained.  A 'Defence Exempt Environmental Appraisal' has been submitted with the planning application, rather than a full environmental impact assessment report.  The defence exempt document does not include key information about risks, processes, and wastes which would normally be considered as part of an environmental impact assessment.

NIS considers that West Berkshire Council, as the local planning authority, would be acting unlawfully were it to grant planning permission for the proposed development given that that the correct procedure has not been followed by the Ministry of Defence.


The Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) has issued a report summarising its findings following the periodic review of safety at AWE Burghfield.

The report concludes: “Whilst there were no immediate concerns for nuclear safety, AWE identified a number of shortfalls as measured against modern standards”.  The periodic safety review at Burghfield identified over 1000 safety shortfalls requiring correction.

The report states that, following the review, “NII was content for operations at Burghfield to continue but was concerned with the length of time being taken to address the shortfalls identified in the forward improvement programme”.  A permissioning regime was established which required AWE to obtain agreement from NII before each particular operation could take place.  Before permission was given, NII reviewed whether adequate progress had been made by AWE in delivering the improvement programme.

In July 2007 the Burghfield site experienced severe disruption due to widespread flooding of the site, and all operational work was suspended whilst work to recover from the flood took place.  Because of the impact of the flood on the improvement programme, NII issued an interim decision on the periodic review of safety in September 2007, and extended the permissioning regime until the improvement programme had been completed.  NII judged that AWE had made sufficient progress to recommence normal operating at the end of April 2009, and in August prepared a close-out report for the periodic review of safety.

An area of particular concern to NII was the integrity of concrete structures at the site – believed to be the 'Gravel Gerties' above the warhead assembly / disassembly operational areas – which were unable to be inspected to demonstrate that they were able to withstand normal and hazard loads.  NII inspectors took a view based on engineering judgement that the concrete elements of these structures remained in good condition.  Another area of concern was lifting equipment in the loading bay area (believed to be a crane used for nuclear lifts), where structural modifications and replacement equipment were necessary to eliminate a “significant hazard”.

AWE Burghfield now has permission to continue operating until its next periodic review of safety in 2016, subject to satisfactory progress being made on AWE's forward improvement work programme, adequate results being demonstrated during continuing inspections, and satisfactory progress being made in delivery of Burghfield's new warhead assembly / disassembly facility, Project Mensa.  NII wishes to see the new Mensa facility enter into service by December 2015.


West Berkshire Council has now published an updated version of the 'Atomic Weapons Establishments Off-Site Contingency Arrangements' plan which outlines the arrangements that emergency services would follow when responding to a release of radioactivity from either of the two AWE sites at Aldermaston or Burghfield.

NIS has written to West Berkshire Council with comments on the plan, and has asked AWE to provide more information about anticipated releases of radioactivity following an emergency at AWE – essential information in determining the nature of the response to an emergency.

West Berkshire Council is currently preparing for its three yearly exercise of the plan – Exercise Aldex 10 – which is scheduled to take place on 10 November 2010.  NIS has made a number of suggestions about the exercise scenario to West Berkshire Council and has also asked to officially observe the exercise.

AWE itself has recently reissued the On-site Emergency Plans for both Aldermaston and Burghfield, and HSE has issued Licence Instruments approving the content of the revised plans.

NIS has prepared a special briefing about the AWE off-site emergency plan.



The Ministry of Defence has published updated guidance for local authorities and  the emergency services on  contingency arrangements for handling an accident during the transportation of nuclear weapons and other military nuclear materials.

Edition 7 of the Local Authorities and Emergency Services Information (LAESI) guidance was published in September 2009 to replace earlier versions of the document.

As in previous editions, the guidelines outline the command and control arrangements for dealing with an emergency involving a nuclear warhead, special nuclear materials, or nuclear submarine reactor fuel whilst in transit, and relatively few changes have been made to the previous version.   The guidelines indicate that, far from being co-ordinated at the local level, the response to an emergency would be tightly controlled by the MoD and ministers through the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) facilities, which are activated in the event of a national emergency.  The MoD response would be led by its Nuclear Accident Response Organisation (NARO).

As in previous editions, the guidelines do not include practical information for use by emergency services, such as the routes used by warhead convoys or the radiation doses that emergency responders might experience.

The guidelines do, however, include an annex listing local authorities which defence nuclear materials may pass through or fly over.  The list no longer includes Cambridgeshire or Bradford.  The omission of Cambridgeshire is probably an oversight, as the county is home of RAF Wittering, a regular staging post for nuclear warhead convoys.


This edition of NIS Update is a little longer than usual as no updates were published during November or December 2009.  Instead, briefing materials on the planning application for the enriched uranium facility at AWE Aldermaston were published.  This edition of NIS update therefore covers significant news stories which broke over the November – January period.

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