The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWEplc) was expected to lodge a planning notice with West Berkshire District Council in August, but no notice has yet appeared. Before privatisation, no planning process was necessary for AWE, but now that it is a licensed nuclear site, the local planning authority must be consulted on any new development. Plans for the new hydrodynamic and other research and development facilities at Aldermaston have been in the pipeline since 1999, when the MoD were choosing between Hunting BRAE and the new BNFL consortium for a ten year contract to run the nuclear weapons production plant. Part of the deal was to agree a further 25 year contract. The consortium of BNFL, Lockheed Martin & Serco offered that option.

Testing new weapons
New facilities at AWE will enable research on nuclear weapons to continue without access to underground nuclear tests that are banned under the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It isn't a question of building new production facilities. The new A90 warhead production complex can be used to build and service nuclear warheads for many years ahead, with appropriate re-tooling. The skills and equipment to build small nuclear weapons already exist. What is not available is the means to test them – hence the long term alternative plans to offer methods of testing a new warhead design.

The Minister can decide
This is not the first time that an international military nuclear issue has become the concern of West Berks. Council in Newbury. In the 1980s, the deployment of nuclear Cruise Missiles at USAF Greenham Common had a profound effect on Newbury people and the then Newbury District Council. Council Tax payers will no doubt hope that the news of new developments at AWE will not attract the same kind of protest that cruise missiles brought to the area. Many will remember that thousands of demonstrators periodically joined the permanent Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp and that the cost to the council and police service ran into millions.

With nuclear weapons again on the Newbury agenda, the local councillors have two options: either to accept the planning notice from AWE and risks being the focus for national nuclear disarmament protest again, or, to refer the matter up to the Environment Minister who will decide on it at government level.

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