NIS Update: September 2010


West Berkshire Council has confirmed that its Eastern Area Planning Committee will consider the planning application for 'Project Hydrus', the new hydrodynamics experimental facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston, at its meeting on Wednesday 29th September.

As has been the case with previous planning applications for AWE sites, council officers are recommending that the Committee grans permission for the development to go ahead.

The meeting will take place at the Calcot Centre, High View, Reading, RG31 4XD.  The meeting will begin at 6.30 pm and members of the public are entitled to attend.

Papers for the meeting, including a report on the Project Hydrus planning application, have been posted on the Eastern Area Planning Committee page of the Council's website.

Comments on the application will be accepted by the Council until the day before the meeting and can be submitted by email to the Council, quoting application reference number 10/01695/COMIND.



Ministers are in disagreement over proposals to adjust the spending profile for replacing the Vanguard class submarines which carry the UK's Trident nuclear weapons, according to a number of recent press reports.

The National Security Council is said to have been assessing the consequences of a move away from the continuous deployment of nuclear weapons at sea. This would allow the lifetime of the submarines to be extended, delaying the 'Main Gate' decision to commit to a replacement until after both the current Comprehensive Spending Review round, when deep cuts in public expenditure are likely to be implemented, and the next general election.

This would ease financial pressure on the Trident replacement programme because it would allow the sharp increase in spending which would result as submarine construction work commenced to be deferred.

The National Security Council is said to have examined the risks of a gap arising in continuous nuclear submarine patrols and the likely savings resulted from taking such a step.

Reuters news agency has reported that BAE Systems, who own the Barrow shipyard where the successor submarine would be built and where the project team working on the successor submarine is based, has been asked to "look at the timing" around the replacement submarines.

In addition, the BBC has quoted Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey (Liberal Democrat) as saying that the replacement timetable could change as the result of the Trident Value-For-Money review which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has recently completed. Mr Harvey said that "If it [Main Gate] did shift a few months at that stage, it is not going to make any difference in terms of finance or in terms of the impact on the industrial base.".

According to Mr Harvey the 'Initial Gate' decision for the Trident replacement programme, where the go-ahead is given to detailed design work on a single option, is now likely to be made in early 2011, although there is a small chance it could be made just before the end of this year.

However, Defence Secretary Liam Fox remains adamant that only a minimal delay in the replacement programme will be acceptable and that the doctrine of continuous patrols cannot be changed, and that replacing the four Vanguard nuclear submarines can be delayed by no more than four to six months.

According to the Financial Times Mr Fox has proposed to the National Security Council that plans to replace Trident should continue according to the current programme and that two new aircraft carriers should also be given the go-ahead, but with half the originally planned number of aircraft.

Although agreed by the Defence Board, Mr Fox's proposal is said to have created divisions between Chiefs of Staff representing the armed forces, with the Army skeptical about the need for building two aircraft carriers and the Navy and the Air Force strongly in support of Mr Fox's plan. The newspaper quotes one senior Army figure as saying: “We don’t have any vision of how our armed forces should be configured in 2025 unless you think we’re only going to be fighting World War Three”.



The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is being pushed through too quickly with too little consultation with the public and the defence industry according to a new report published by the House of Commons Defence Committee.

"The rapidity with which the SDSR process is being undertaken is quite startling,” warns the committee. As a result "mistakes will be made and some of them may be serious."

The committee also states its “concern” over the failure to include the programme to update the Trident nuclear weapons system in the SDSR. “It seems increasingly likely that the MoD will have to shoulder more than the running costs of the successor programme to Trident”, it concludes. “The implications of this for the MoD’s budget would be very significant. In practice, this decision seems to put the issue of Trident renewal into the SDSR without making this explicit, which unhelpfully reduces the transparency of the process”.

The SDSR will decide Britain’s future military priorities and form the basis on which decisions on military spending cuts will be made. The review is due to be completed by the end of October and published at the same time as the government's Comprehensive Spending Review.

The MPs expressed their concern at the “startling” rapidity with which the SDSR is being conducted, and advised that the review is being conducted in such haste that the result is unlikely to be a sound foundation for the future defence of the UK. They question the claim by Defence Secretary Liam Fox that the SDSR will be more than just a cost-cutting exercise, warning that it could end up with "only short-term priorities, misaligned resources, a barely reformed acquisition process and a structure short of manpower to deliver good performance and improperly configured for its tasks."

The committee had further "serious concerns" at the limited consultation with the defence industry in drawing up the SDSR plans and also pointed out that, given the lack of public support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a failure to engage more widely in public debate on the SDSR risked widening the sense of public 'disconnection' with defence issues.



The costs of the programme to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system have reached nearly half a million pounds per day, and development work at the Atomic Weapons Establishment is costing the public well over a million a day according to information released in a recent Parliamentary Question.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox told Labour MP John Trickett that spend on the Concept Phase for the replacement submarine and associated propulsion system since the beginning of April 2007 to the end of June 2010 has reached some £570 million.

Spend at the Atomic Weapons Establishment on replacement facilities at AWE sites is budgeted at some £490 million in financial year 2010-11, with expenditure in future years subject to Comprehensive Spending Review negotiations.

Although no decision has yet been taken on whether to refurbish or replace the existing Trident warhead, Mr Fox's answer reveals that work to address this issue has already commenced at Aldermaston. Dialogue over possible future options is underway between the MoD's Strategic Systems Integrated Project Team and scientists at AWE, and expenditure amounting to some £12 million per annum is presently being incurred on studies aimed at informing the future decision.



A recent Parliamentary Question asked by Labour MP John Woodcock has revealed the numbers of staff currently working at the AWE sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield.

In answer to Mr Woodcock's question Peter Luff, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support, and Technology, replied that at the end of August 2010 AWE plc employed 4,230 staff at the Aldermaston site and 340 staff at the Burghfield site. In addition staff directly employed by AWE plc, some 2,000 staff are employed by contractors working at the two sites.

The Nuclear Warhead Capability Sustainment Programme, which aims to equip AWE with the facilities and staff needed to keep Trident nuclear weapons in service into the 2020s and design and build any replacement warhead, has increased the numbers of staff and contractors working at AWE by around 2,300 people. AWE recently opened the new 'Gemini' office complex, built at a cost of £75 million, to provide new accommodation for 1,400 members of staff working at Aldermaston.



AWE's Annual Review for the year 2010 has now been published and posted on the company's website. The review marks AWE's 60th anniversary and outlines the company's achievements over the past year, mentioning progress on construction projects, AWE's science programme and collaboration with academic institutions, the company's new Enterprise Strategy, and various awards won by AWE and its staff.

The report highlights progress made on the Orion laser project, which is scheduled to become operational at the end of this year. The laser will begin operations with one long pulse beam and one short pulse beam working at about one tenth of their capability, and build up to full power gradually over a 15 month commissioning period. Elsewhere on the infrastructure development front, the review reveals that enabling works on Project Mensa, the new warhead assembly / disassembly facility at AWE Burghfield, are now complete, with the new facility expected to be commissioned during 2014-15.

Over the past year AWE has been steadily developing its links with academia. The University of Bristol has become AWE's fifth Strategic Alliance university partner and a new Centre for Inertial Fusion has opened at Imperial College as part of the preparations for sharing the Orion laser with the academic community, with the first academic access to the laser expected to be in 2012 after it has been fully commissioned. Up to 15% of research time on the Orion laser will be available for collaborative academic research in the high energy density physics field.

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