Submissions are invited by the Committee to reach them by Thursday 18th January 2007.
e-mail your views to the Clerk to the Defence Committee at


October 2006

The Future of the Strategic Nuclear Deterrent: the UK manufacturing and skills base


This submission argues that much of the investment programme underway at AWE Aldermaston in 2004/8 is not relevant to the objective of maintaining the key skills and infrastructure necessary for the design and manufacture of nuclear warheads and the stewardship of the UK’s existing warhead stockpile. Current company acquisitions mean that AWE is to be managed by Unites States’ companies with implications for disarmament prospects, financial, legal, safety and political issues. With regard to nuclear submarines, the long-term consequences of creating, decommissioning and storing nuclear waste must be factored into any decision. Further, the submarine building capacity at Barrow-in-Furness should not rely only on a military application and BAE Systems should be supported to diversify into the renewable energy sector.


1.                  Investment at AWE Aldermaston and Burghfield


1.1              Aldermaston Developments

The 2005 AWE Aldermaston Site Strategy Development Plan is a grandiose scheme, despite modifications to reduce the number of construction projects contained in the original 2002 proposals. The Plan promotes an industry-led vision of a nuclear weapons’ ‘garden city’ estate, rather than a maximum-security military site. It seems as though money is no object.


1.2       Escalating costs at AWE appear to be driven by the military industrial complex, both here and in the USA. 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 a wholly American-owned company whose UK subsidiary now owns INSYS, formerly Hunting Engineering, an AWE consortium member from 1993-2000.


1.3       Clearly there are significant profits to be made out of AWE. In the first years of privatisation, 1993-2000, financial incentives for projects completed ahead of time were shared between Hunting Brae and the MOD. But now, in addition to company profits and in the case of Serco, shareholder dividends, a profit-sharing scheme for AWEplc staff also requires funding from the public purse. 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

1.4       At a day-to-day level, AWE plc has a managing director and four senior managers who are US citizens with 87 subcontractors from US corporations.2


1.5       ‘Orion’Laser 
A significant building project underway in 2006 at AWE Aldermaston is that of the ‘Orion’ laser facility.3 It is advertised by AWE and MOD as being a high-powered 12-laser configuration facility, which academics also will want to use to test materials under extreme heat. However, the scientific community is not agreed that this high-powered laser system is necessary in order to maintain existing Trident warheads.4


1.6              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.5


1.7              According to AWE, cooperation between AWE and the US Labs. has been stepped up in recent years6 and nuclear weapons manufacturers in the USA will have access to the Orion laser under the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement. Apart from political pressures, with US firms in the driving seat of management at AWE, it must be assumed that development of US nuclear weapons will get preferential access over UK universities. Worse, from a UK point of view, it may be that the US’s need for a facility such as ‘Orion’ will lock us into nuclear weapons development, with little option to respond to current trends pointing away from having nuclear weapons in the UK armoury. The acquisition of the new laser will fuel the nuclear arms race. MOD could hardly sanction US testing of warhead materials at AWE while Britain concentrated only on Decommissioning and Verification!


1.8              AWE Recruitment

Current advertisements for scientific posts at AWE usually require a willingness for applicants to travel to the USA. This applies to the posts of ‘Task Leader/Laser – Orion Project’ and also to ‘Lead Systems Engineer’. The later also is required to “Attempt to influence MoD thinking in respect of warhead system options.”


Lead Systems Engineer

Discipline: Engineering     Location: Aldermaston      Salary: £41,000 to £55,000

• Ensure that appropriate technical standards are maintained across the Programme.
• Develop a systems approach within the project team.
• Attempt to influence MoD thinking in respect of warhead system options.
• Represent the technical programme at senior levels within AWE, including the TPG.

                                   Extract from AWE website jobs list7


1.9       Safety at AWE is paramount. While it is reasonable to have confidence in AWEplc and the regulators to ensure high standards of nuclear safety, the distance from financial decision-makers in the USA is worrying. Accountability to concerned citizens and the local community will be hard to trace.
2.         Decommissioning Skills at AWE


2.1       A good deal of decommissioning has been achieved by AWE staff during1996-2006 with the consequent development of a valuable skills base.  The AWE Aldermaston site is a mixture of new, old and very old facilities. Highly contaminated glove boxes and other weapons production infrastructure has been changed into nuclear waste that either remains on site, in the case of Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) or has been transported by road to the Drigg site at Sellafield as Low Level Waste (LLW). Much remains to be done. Out-of-use buildings scheduled for decommission and facilities reaching the end of their life in the coming years will need expert attention. The technical and managerial skills needed to achieve safe decommissioning; packaging and storage of nuclear waste must be maintained into the foreseeable future. These skills have been gained and developed from the skills-base employed in weapons production. Conversely, skills and knowledge maintained during decommissioning would be readily available should they be needed for production in future.



3.         Verification Techniques: Innovation and Experts


3.1              The five-year AWE Verification Research Project in 2000-5 has developed the technical knowledge for “the verification of warhead dismantlement and for arms control monitoring of a nuclear weapons complex.”8 The Project reported to NPT Prep-Coms. and to the 2005 Review Conference, attracting international interest.  The study of ‘obstacles to verification’ has application for both the IAEA and for new weapons’ production. In 2004 the key AWE researcher moved back into weapons production armed with the experience of how to design sensitive systems to be protected from a verification regime should it ever apply to AWE. The project report concludes:


“While considerable technology exists to support verification of a disarmament
programme, much still needs to be done in a number of areas to develop and prove these. New technologies continue to emerge requiring further detailed assessment of their potential application to this field.”


“From the outset of the programme the United Kingdom had identified the four

key areas to be addressed as authentication, dismantling, disposition and monitoring the weapon complex.”


 “For the future, the United Kingdom will continue to monitor and evaluate
technological developments with relevance to verification but in terms of the
processes and procedures needed to underpin any verification exercise, it is felt that a more focused approach should now be adopted addressing specific areas and issues.”

Conclusions. Verification of Nuclear Disarmament: Final Report to the UN NPT Review Conference on studies into the verification of nuclear warheads and their components.May 2005


3.2              The role of verification experts is an integral part of any disarmament process and as such would give AWE an international task (and income). For this role of providing Confidence Building Measures to be acceptable, Britain would need to declare itself a non-nuclear weapons state and be open to inspection, once the existing stockpile of warheads had been dismantled.



4.                  Civilian Nuclear Industry


4.1       The establishment of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will ensure that the government itself employs nuclear physicists who are essential practitioners in the scientific community. Whatever decisions are made on nuclear new build in the coming years, the waste storage sector will always be in business, developing and maintaining the expert skills and techniques to handle nuclear materials.



5.         Scientific Higher Education Sector


5.1              University research projects linked to AWE’s needs will doubtless remain in place, and follow the available funding. But it is MOD, rather than international / US commercial interests, that should commission such work.


5.2               Collaborative projects between academics and AWE to use the new laser will give rise to concern if they are specifically 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). Education institutions should not be led down this route, where their legal standing might be compromised. While the same point applies to MOD, government may be more prepared to contest any legal challenge.



6.            Submarine Construction Industry


6.1       In relation to the submarine construction industry based at Barrow-in-Furness, there is an assumption that it must be MOD investment that is required to keep the manufacturing base alive during a gap in military orders.  However, alternative projects, funded by a different Ministry should not be ruled out. There are possibilities of research and development in renewable energy and other projects that in the end could benefit international security and the submarine industry. In June this year, the local press in Barrow published an article headed, ‘Barrow Jobs Joy at Brown’s Trident Pledge’. The following letter was published in response:


Job Security in Barrow-in-Furness
Job security in Barrow is essential – as it is in every town in the country. However, building nuclear submarines will not secure jobs in the long term and will do nothing to ease the real threats to our security. Barrow could be a world leader in defending us against climate change, contribute to global security and benefit from financially security. The workforce has skills and technology at its fingertips to research and build massive submersible turbines to harness the power of the sea for renewable energy. Is it beyond engineers to design and develop a system to transfer wave power from the surface to seabed installations from where it can be cabled ashore? The trouble with Trident is that there is always an end to the jobs. The next generation wants secure jobs into the future, and supplying an international market with renewable energy systems is the means to get them. Trident is old thinking. If ever there was a time to press for new thinking in political and economic investment in Barrow, this is it. “

                                                            Di McDonald

North West Evening Mail  23/06/06


6.2           Ship builders take no responsibility for the nuclear waste they create in building nuclear submarines. The consequences of creating, decommissioning and storing more nuclear waste must be born by the government and in the end, by the citizens of the UK. No solution has yet been found for the safe storage of decommissioned and existing submarines.9


6.3               The submarine building capacity at Barrow-in-Furness should not rely only on a military application and government should support BAE Systems financially to diversify into the renewable energy sector.



7.                  Conclusion 

7.1              Current and projected investment in AWE is at an unreasonable level, given that the Aldermaston Site Strategy Development Plan is to build facilities to design, test and produce unusable weapons. A stop should be put to this waste of the country’s precious resources, and a plan adopted for AWE that serve the nation’s needs. Attempts by industry to influence MOD decisions should be resisted. AWE should be returned to UK hands for financial, political and military reasons. Nuclear warheads are not commodities, and many would ague that they are not assets either. Decommissioning would maintain the technical skills-base for the future and Verification that of the weapons’ scientists. The ‘Orion’ Laser building now under construction will provide materials testing facilities that will drive nuclear weapons’ research and development scientists into illegal activity if its purpose is to undermine the CTBT.


Di McDonald

Nuclear Information Service




  1. The Independent Newspaper 23/07/06

2.      John Reid, Minister of State, Hansard Parliamentary Record 21/11/06 20051558W

  1. .See: for a view of the site and projected building
  2. What Next for Aldermaston? Scottish CND 12 June 2006
  3. See:
  4. Parliamentary Answers 22 February 2005. [216675]
    There have been 180 visits to the United States by personnel from [AWE].

‘[T]here were 128 visits by US personnel to AWE. Personnel from AWE visited 29 facilities in the United States during the 12 months ending January 2005. These were:
National Nuclear Security Administration, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,
Sandia National Laboratories Livermore, Los Alamos National Laboratory,
Honeywell Kansas City Plant, Sandia National Laboratories Albuquerque,
NWSC Seal Beach, Savannah River Site, Y-12 Oak Ridge, Pantex, Titan Corp.,
Mission Research Corporation, Brookhaven, Laser Technology Inc.
ITT Colorado, ITT Washington, Defense Threat Reduction Agency
Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space, Air Force Research Laboratory, Visidyne
Nevada Test Site, Naval Research Laboratory, ITT Crystal City,
New York Port Authority, LLE Rochester, Washington Group International,
Princeton New Brunswick Laboratory, Manufacturing Sciences Corp.,
Oak Ridge Remote Sensing Laboratory

  1. AWE website:
  2. Discovery No.7 AWE journal, July 2003
  3. MOD ISOLUS Project.

Submissions are invited by the Committee to reach them by Thursday 18th January 2007.
e-mail your views to the Clerk to the Defence Committee at

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