NIS Update: November – December 2011

A redacted copy of Trident Value For Money Review documents has recently been released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request made by Greenpeace UK.  The review took place in 2010 as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review process but has never been officially published by the government.

The review shows that a reduction in the number of warheads in the UK's nuclear arsenal, announced when the Strategic Defence and Security Review was published in October 2010, allowed the government to make “significant cost savings”.  Ministers were advised that “the reduction in warheads will be seen – and welcomed – internationally as a very significant disarmament move”, and the decision to reduce warhead numbers was presented as a demonstration of support for President Obama's global arms control agenda rather than as forced by a need to control spending.

The documents indicate that one of the limits to saving money at AWE was “the very extensive work already completed or under way on many aspects of the warhead programme”.  Infrastructure development work at AWE has been under way since 2005, even though a decision on  whether the UK will develop a new nuclear warhead will not be taken until around 2019.

The report also reveals that significant spending to pave the way to replace Trident took place before the Parliamentary vote in 2007 which approved work on the new nuclear weapons programme.  Within onshore nuclear infrastructure “approximately 90% by value of the necessary facilities at Barrow, Devonport, and Clyde (Faslane) have been recapitalised during the last 20 years”.  Modernisation needed for the Trident replacement programme will therefore focus on maintenance and refurbishment of existing infrastructure, rather than construction of new facilities – although considerable spending is still required at the Rolls-Royce plant at Raynesway, Derby, where nuclear propulsion plants for the UK's submarines are built.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is placing considerable reliance on the Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme –  its strategy for reducing procurement costs in the submarine sector as a whole – to make savings in the Successor submarine programme.  The approach will require increased efficiency and successful partnership working between MoD and the main contractors in the submarine programme if the required savings are to be delivered.

A note from the Royal Navy's Director General Submarines, Rear Admiral Simon Lister, which is included in the report reveals that MoD has prepared detailed planning costs for the Trident replacement programme over the period 2010 – 2025, and outline costs for the period 2025 – 2040, although these costs have never been revealed to Parliament.


The Ministry of Defence has announced that the onshore nuclear submarine reactor test site at HMS Vulcan at Dounreay will no longer be needed to support the naval nuclear propulsion programme beyond 2015.

The Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment (NRTE) has undertaken testing and prototyping work in support of in-service nuclear submarines and the development of new reactor core designs for over 40 years. The site was built in the late 1950s and has been managed by Rolls-Royce, which supplies the Royal Navy's nuclear reactor systems, since 1964.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Peter Luff, announced that confidence in naval reactor technology is such that it is no longer necessary to undertake reactor core prototyping activities, and that design of the proposed new PWR 3 reactor core for new Trident replacement submarines will be supported through a test and validation programme using computer modelling, analogy from current reactor designs and testing of individual components and systems.

The Vulcan NRTE site will no longer be needed to support reactor core prototyping activity when the current series of PWR2 reactor core prototype tests, with a contract value of £360 million, are complete in 2015.  The Ministry of Defence is currently considering options for the future of the site, which range from placing it into care and maintenance to decommissioning it and handing ownership over to the National Decommissioning Authority.  In 2005, the MoD estimated that it would cost £2.1bn to decommission Vulcan and decontaminate and deal with waste at the site.

The site currently employs a 265-strong permanent workforce.  Rolls-Royce have pledged to retain a base in the far north of Scotland beyond 2015 when the current contract for HMS Vulcan ends, saying that the site has the site has “high-value work to 2030 and beyond” and a need to retain a skilled workforce at around existing levels until then.


Public consultation on the Ministry of Defence Submarine Dismantling Project commenced at the end of October 2011 and will continue until 17 February 2012.  

The consultation is seeking views on disposal of the Royal Navy's redundant nuclear submarines, which are contaminated with radioactive waste.  MoD is asking for opinions and information on three key issues relating to the project: how radioactive materials should be removed from the submarines; where this should take place; and which type of site should be used for interim storage of the intermediate level radioactive waste generated following submarine dismantling.  

An extensive library of technical documents relating to the consultation is available online and a number of discussion events for stakeholders in the project have been organised.  Full details are available from the Ministry of Defence Submarine Dismantling Project website.

Independent nuclear consulting engineer John Large has set up an innovative 'crowdfunding' arrangement to allow groups who wish to commission a technical appraisal of the MoD proposals pool resources to fund the work.  Details are on the Large and Associates website.


Planning controls around around nuclear sites look set to be tightened in the light of the recent Boundary Hall planning inquiry.

Planning permission for a substantial housing development at the Boundary Hall site, close to the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston perimeter fence at Tadley, was granted in June 2011 by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government despite a recommendation from a planning inquiry that the development should not be permitted on public protection grounds.

Opposition to the Boundary Hall development was led by the Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (now the Office for Nuclear Regulation – ONR), which argued that the development would lead to an unacceptable population increase within the AWE Aldermaston emergency planning zones, placing residents at risk in the event of a radiation emergency at the site.

ONR's recent report into the implications of the Fukushima nuclear accident for the UK nuclear industry includes a recommendation that the government should examine the adequacy of the existing system of planning controls for commercial and residential developments around nuclear sites.  The government has promised to consider this recommendation when drawing up a National Planning Policy Framework, and ONR officials are discussing the possibility of introducing legislation to make ONR a statutory consultee during the planning process.

Meanwhile, West Berkshire Council has been forced to make a number of changes to its proposed Core Strategy planning document after the planning inspector conducting the examination in public for the draft strategy found that it failed to give sufficient justification for the selection of locations for future development.

A new policy proposed in the revised Sustainability Appraisal document for the Core Strategy, drafted following consultation with ONR, states that: “In the interests of public safety, residential development in the inner consultation zones of AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield is likely to be refused planning permission by the Council.  All other development proposals in the consultation zones will be considered in consultation with the HSE NII, having regard to the scale of development proposed, its location, population distribution of the area and the impact on public safety, to include how the development would impact on “Blue Light Services” and the emergency off site plan in the event of an emergency as well as other planning criteria”.

West Berkshire Council has opened a public consultation on the proposed changes to the Core Strategy, which will close on 16 December 2011.


The Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan has forced the Ministry of Defence to review the safety of its nuclear programmes.

Although Ministers at the Department of Energy and Climate Change ordered the Office for Nuclear Regulation to undertake a review of the safety of the civil nuclear sector immediately after the accident, the Ministry of Defence has until recently remained silent on the implications for the UK's military nuclear programme.

In response to a Parliamentary Question from Angus Robertson MP, Peter Luff, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support, and Technology, announced that all duty holders in the defence nuclear programme are undertaking work to consider the application of lessons to be learnt from the Fukushima event.  The work is being informed by the stress tests required by the European Commission for the civil nuclear sector, adapted to be appropriate to the activity concerned.

The Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR) has also conducted a review of the MoD's nuclear programme, and Mr Luff pledged to place redacted copies  of DNSR's preliminary report and a supporting initial statement from the regulator in the Library of the House of Commons.  DNSR's final report will also be placed in the public domain in due course.


Scientific institutions from both the United States and United Kingdom took part in a joint nuclear forensics exercise organised by the US National Nuclear Security Administration in October 2011 to test their ability to analyze radioactive material following a mock nuclear attack.

Exercise Opal Tiger, part of the US National Technical Nuclear Forensics Initiative, evaluated the ability of staff from the US Department of Energy, working alongside colleagues from the FBI, Department of Defense, and Department of Justice, to use a range of scientific technologies to identify the origin of radioactive material gathered following a simulated crude nuclear weapons attack on the United Kingdom.  Such exercises are considered to act as a deterrent against the threat of nuclear terrorism by increasing the likelihood that perpetrators are identified and held accountable.

"The exercise enhanced collaboration in technical nuclear forensics between the US and UK," according to NNSA Associate Administrator Joseph Krol.  Although UK institutions involved in the exercise were not named, the Atomic Weapons Establishment, which provides technical support to the UK government's National Nuclear Security programme is certain to have participated.


The government has announced its proposals for the long term management of the UK's stocks of civil plutonium, following consultation earlier this year.

Not surprisingly, the government has decided to adopt the preferred policy put forward at the time of the consultation, and has taken a preliminary view that plutonium should be used to manufacture mixed oxide (MOX) reactor fuel.  

Mindful of the experience of the recently closed Sellafield MOX Plant, described in a US government diplomatic cable leaked to Wikileaks as "[one of] the most embarrassing failures in British industrial history", the announcement states that no new MOX plant will be procured until the government is confident that the preferred option could be implemented safely and securely and is affordable, deliverable, and offers value for money.

The government says it remains open to alternative proposals for plutonium management that might offer better value and less risk to the taxpayer and does not wish to close off alternatives, although it will be prioritising work on MOX fabrication as a management option.


Security risks facing the nuclear industry have been outlined in a new report from the Office for Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS) – the division within the Office for Nuclear Regulation which is responsible for controlling security standards within the sector.

The report, which reviews the effectiveness of security in the civil nuclear industry  over the period 2009-11, warns that the current economic downturn has led to an increase in the number of nuclear workers vulnerable to bribes and also expresses concerns about the security vetting of foreign workers in the nuclear industry.

Growing numbers of workers vetted for national security reasons have run into financial difficulties, leading to concern that they may be susceptible to bribery.  Workers in such a situation have been interviewed to ensure that their current financial vulnerabilities do not pose a risk of potential financial inducement, and have had their security clearances reviewed.

The report warns that ONR is unable to carry out the same level of background checks with workers from overseas as with British citizens.  In some cases security clearance for foreign workers was refused or issued with caveats to deny access to certain information or plants.

Security incidents recorded for the reporting period included “a number of procedural errors” in dealing with sensitive nuclear information at an unnamed “off-site office complex”, and worries that “on a number of occasions” since 2009, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, responsible for guarding nuclear power plants, “was unable to meet its agreed minimum staffing levels at some of the sites to which it is deployed due mainly to sickness of staff.”

The report reveals that the UK’s current security regulations do not apply to nuclear plants which are under construction which OCNS considers is “not acceptable.”  The government is planning to amend nuclear security regulations to fill this loophole.


The Office for Nuclear Regulation has taken over responsibility for the regulation of transport of radioactive materials – formerly the responsibility of the Department of Transport.

The Radioactive Materials Transport Team at ONR are responsible for controlling the transport of radioactive material by road and rail, and also for providing advice on their transport by sea and air.  The team's transfer to ONR represents a further step towards the creation of a single body responsible for regulating all aspects of the nuclear industry.

ONR has also published a document outlining the vision and strategy for the organisation, as envisaged by its new Board of Directors.  The vision emphasises ONR's role as securing the protection  of  people  and  society  from  the  hazards  of  the  nuclear  industry, and sets the organisations priorities as being an efficient and effective regulator, increasing the openness and transparency of the nuclear industry, and influencing the improvement of nuclear safety and security standards across the globe.



The Ministry of Defence has submitted a planning application to West Berkshire Council for construction of a Technology Development Centre at AWE Aldermaston as part of the joint Anglo-French 'Teutates' hydrodynamics research programme.

The Centre will develop radiographic instrumentation for monitoring and analysing the results of warhead research experiments which will be conducted at the new 'Epure' joint facility at Valduc in France.  The Aldermaston and Valduc facilities are both scheduled to commence operation in 2015.

As is usual for planning applications submitted for AWE sites, information necessary to judge the risks posed by the development will be withheld from the public.  A Defence environmental impact assessment exemption direction issued by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government allows the MoD to submit a limited environmental appraisal document to the local planning authority instead of undertaking a full environmental impact assessment.

The Technology Development Centre will design giant high power flash X-Ray machines for taking high speed photos of changes in materials during experiments which mimic the behaviour warhead components and mock-ups during a nuclear explosion.  AWE has developed considerable expertise in such technology, based on Inverted Voltage Adder equipment, over many years of hydrodynamic research using existing facilities at Aldermaston.

The planning application is expected to be determined by West Berkshire Council's Eastern Area Planning Committee in late January / early February 2012.


The Ministry of Defence has pledged at least £2 billion of spending on new developments at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, according to new information released in response to a Parliamentary Question from Caroline Lucas MP.

The answer, which exposes the true scale of development at AWE, gives a breakdown of the costs for a number of new-build projects which are intended to keep the current Trident warhead in service and, if a future government so decides, allow the development of a new warhead in years to come.

For the first time, the costs of Project Mensa, the new warhead assembly / disassembly plant at AWE Burghfield, have been revealed, totalling £734 million.  Other big ticket items include Project Pegasus, the planned new enriched uranium facility at Aldermaston, at a cost of £634 million, and Project Circinus, AWE's new high explosives fabrication facility, costing £231 million.

The costs of a number of other construction projects have not been disclosed for commercial reasons, and neither have the costs of a number of 'rekit' projects for refurbishing existing facilities at AWE.

The investment programme at AWE – believed to be second only to the London Olympics development as the biggest construction programme in the UK – is part of the Nuclear Warhead Capability Sustainment Programme: a secretive Ministry of Defence programme aimed at ensuring the the UK retains the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons for decades into the future.

In response to the question from Caroline Lucas Peter Luff, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support, and Technology, gave the following figures for project costs at AWE:



  • Mensa (warhead assembly / disassembly facility): £734m
  • Pegasus (enriched uranium components facility): £634m
  • Circinus (high explosives fabrication facility): £231m
  • Orion (nuclear test laser): £183m
  • Gemini (office complex): £78m
  • General buildings and car parking: £62m
  • Leo (small components manufacturing facility): £16m
  • Octans (research laboratory): not disclosed
  • Orchard (supercomputer facility): not disclosed



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