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NIS UPDATE September 2006
Changes to AWE Management Ltd (AWEML)
The AWE management consortium, AWE Management Limited (AWEML), controls the AWEplc operating company’s workforce and consists of Lockheed Martin Ltd, BNFL and Serco Ltd. BNFL’s sell-off of its one-third interest in AWEML is expected to go to a company in the USA and Serco has joined Bechtel, the giant US construction company to bid for UK nuclear decommissioning contracts.1 Lockheed Martin is the wholly American-owned company whose UK subsidiary now owns INSYS, formerly Hunting Engineering, an AWE consortium member from 1993-2000. AWE plc has a managing director and four senior managers who are US citizens with 87 subcontractors from US corporations.2 A new profit-sharing scheme for AWEplc staff now has to be funded in addition to company profits and in the case of Serco, shareholder dividends. In reference to its stake in AWEML, Serco’s recent report to shareholders states:
“Growth in the first half [of 2006] was driven by the continued expansion of our joint venture with BNFL and Lockheed Martin to operate the UK’s
Atomic Weapons Establishment. Since it commenced in 2002, the contract has seen substantial growth, which was boosted further by a three-year uplift from July 2005, valued at £350m to Serco.”
Serco Group plc 2006 Interim Report
NIF in the USA and the AWE ‘Orion’ Laser3
In the USA, a project to build a vast 192-laser facility, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has run into the sand with little prospect of Senate funds being approved to complete it. NIF sought to overcome the effects of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, but has been dogged by failures and probably has become out-dated before completion, according to the local NGO ‘TriValley Cares’4. The USA will have access to the AWE laser under the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement. It may be that the US’s need for a facility such as ‘Orion’ will lock the UK into nuclear weapons development, with little option to respond to current trends pointing away from having nuclear weapons in the UK armoury. The MoD could hardly sanction US testing of warhead materials at AWE while Britain concentrated only on Decommissioning and Verification!
UK Academic use of the laser
AWE has advertised the laser as being available to universities for academic research. It is not clear if this applies only to UK institutions or to whoever will pay. But it is assumed that US weapon’s labs. will have first call on it. If there are to be collaborative projects between academics and AWE, there may be legal
considerations for projects related to testing warhead materials. Such research is likely to fail the legal justification test if its purpose is to undermine the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and education institutions might find their legal standing compromised. While the same point applies to the MoD, government may be more prepared to contest any legal challenge.
Safety and the Regulators
Safety at AWE is paramount. While it is reasonable to have confidence in regulatory high standards from the Environment Agency and the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, at the present time it seems their method at AWE is persuasion rather than sanctions. Safety at Aldermaston and particularly Burghfield will need to be watched carefully, given the distance from financial decision-makers in the USA.
No planning applications have been lodged with West Berkshire Council Planning Department in September.
This issue of Update contains material submitted to the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence Inquiry into The Future of the Strategic Nuclear Deterrent: the UK manufacturing and skills base.
- The Independent Newspaper 23/07/06
2. John Reid, Minister of State, Hansard Parliamentary Record 21/11/06 20051558W
- .See: http://www.nuclearinfo.org/sites/awe for a view of the site and projected building