– Chevaline Convoys
– Citizen Verification
– Warhead & SNM Convoys
– MDP Convoy Command
– LAESI Guidelines
– Annual Gathering
The End in Sight for Chevaline Warheads
Chevaline convoys from East Anglia have continued to be monitored and tracked on their monthly transport to the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Burghfield for decommissioning. By December 2000, 75 carriers had completed this delivery, 3 more than the 72 carriers that brought Chevaline into RAF Marham in Norfolk and RAF Honington in Suffolk. The movement of these old Polaris submarine warheads began in May 1995, when the warheads were transported from RNAD Coulport in Scotland to be stored in East Anglia until the decommissioning programme got under way. Then in October 1998, Chevaline convoy movements from East Anglia to AWE Burghfield began. Nukewatch volunteers from towns and villages turned out to monitor them in all weathers, in cars, on cycles, motorcycles, an electric buggy, on foot and public transport. When these convoys come to an end in early 2001, a celebration is planned by Nukewatch East to mark the completion of another successful Citizen Verification task.
Nukewatch is the grass-roots monitoring network that actually witnesses and reports on the day-to-day operational road transport movements in the production cycle of nuclear warheads. The activity is known internationally as Citizen Verification. The term recognises citizens rights and responsibilities regarding nuclear weapons and acknowledges that secrecy is not in the citizen
Nukewatchers have had a busy year, monitoring the 21 loaded and 29 unloaded convoys on the roads in 2000. As usual, a good deal of Nuke-watching only proved that a convoy did not go along a road at that particular time. But it is by this process of elimination that routes are established and local people and press alerted along the actual route taken. The use of the A12 from Honington near Bury St. Edmunds to reach the westbound anti-clockwise M25 was of great interest to press in Colchester, Chelmsford and Brentwood. They had no previous knowledge of these convoys and were concerned about the possible consequences if an accident occurred.Trident Warhead ConvoysAs predicted, regular Trident warhead convoys did not come down from Scotland for servicing at AWE in 2000. Two Trident convoys were tracked to RNAD Coulport from AWE and one returned with warheads to AWE for stockpile checks. For the first time since May 1998, four carriers, rather than the usual three, were monitored arriving in Scotland from AWE Burghfield. It is thought that the additional carrier was needed for the number of warheads being returned to AWE for stockpile checks. These convoys continued to use the A1 route, with overnight stops at RAF Wittering and Albermarle Barracks near Newcastle, using the A69 to cross to the western route through Gretna Green into Scotland.
The first Trident warheads built in 1989/90 are now becoming due for service, but if the examined ones are found to be in good condition, the process can be delayed. This will slow down the radioactive emissions from production at AWE Aldermaston while Chevaline decommissioning is completed. Decommissioning discharges are higher than those from production, but are less politically sensitive.
The Plutonium Economy
The plutonium Economy describes the SNM transport activity as well as the international trade in civil nuclear reprocessing. The high level of security afforded to MoDplutonium shows its vulnerability. The sooner it is all under international safeguards the better.
Special Nuclear Materials (SNM) Convoys
2000 is the first year of transports of Plutonium to go into international safeguards, as announced in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review. Loaded convoys went from AWE to BNFL in May and September. Another first, well, since1997, was a loaded convoy from AWE to Coulport in October. Unexpectedly, there have been no convoys to BNFL Chapelcross to collect Tritium this year, as far as we know.In January one of three convoys to RAF Brize Norton collected materials sent from the USA. Six SNM convoys went to RRN Derby with HEU and three to AEATech Harwell carrying weapons materials in both directions. Eight convoys took warheads from Aldermaston to AWE Burghfield for assembly, while 21 returned warheads from Burghfield to Aldermaston for decommissioning.SNM Convoy Routes. SNM Convoys use routes along the M4 and A34 to UKAEA Harwell and to RAF Brize Norton, although Brize convoys sometimes wander through villages around Wantage. The eastern route from AWE on the M4 and A404M to High Wycombe, leads to the M40. From there on, convoys to RRN Derby, either use the M42, A511, A38 route through Burton-on-Trent or the A43 to Towcester, Northampton and the M1. BOD Bicester has become a regular base for tea break off the M40. On the northern run to BNFL Sellafield, Chapelcross or RNAD Coulport, convoys usually use M40 M42 to the M6, but can go on the M4 westward, round Swindon, Cirencester and Gloucester to reach the M5 to Birmingham and M6 North.
LAESI III Guidelines (ACCIDENT PROCEDURE FOR ROAD TRANSPORT OF NUCLEAR WARHEADS)
The update of Local Authority & Emergency Services Information (LAESI) Guidelines on what to do if there is a nuclear warhead transport accident has been delayed several times by the MoD Nuclear Policy Unit in Whitehall. LAESI guidelines are produced by the Home Office on the advice of the Ministry of Defence and detail the response which would be needed by Local Authorities, county police and the military in the event of a nuclear warhead convoy accident involving the release of radioactive material into the environment. New Guidelines were expected to be published in April 2000, but by December nothing had been appeared. Nukewatch was told by the MoD that the update was "on hold because of another initiative". It may be worth repeating Nukewatch concerns, because even though LAESI is realistic in that it recognises the deadly nature of plutonium, the advice begs questions about what is achievable in the real world. For example the Guidelines say:Do not try to collect children from school.The school authorities will look after them. Question: who will stop parents collecting children – will these security men be armed? If children are outside (when the cloud goes over), they should leave outer clothing outside and wash their hands. Question: if it is summer, should children leave their clothes outside. What about their hair should it be washed or shaved off? Ambulances used to remove contaminated casualties from the site (of an accident) should be quarantined. Ambulance crews who deliver suspected or confirmed contaminated patients should be kept apart and should not eat, drink or smoke until they are monitored. Question: how will this affect the normal work of the ambulance service could other emergency patients be put at risk for lack of resources – and for how long? Decontamination of land, buildings, roads, drains and watercourses may not be possible and areas may have to be permanently evacuated.
MDP Convoy Command
The Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) has now taken over warhead convoy operations from the RAF, although Royal Marines continue to provide a security escort. Another radical change will be the move of the Truck Cargo Heavy Duty (TCHD) Vehicle Garage and Maintenance facility from RAF Wittering to the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Aldermaston, near Reading in Berkshire. Along with nine TCHD warhead carriers, the Fire Tenders, Mobile Workshop, Breakdown Truck, Command & Control and Escort Transits will be garaged at AWE. This will mean less notice for convoys going into Burghfield to collect assembled warheads to take to Scotland. Nukewatchers as always, will need to adapt watching patterns to respond to the changes. There will be no change for the MDP motorcycle escort that has been operational with the warhead convoys for several years, as it is already based at AWE as and serves both SNM & Warhead convoys.
AWE has attracted a good deal of notice this year since the management consortium of BNFL, Serco and the US weapon's manufacturers, Lockheed Martin took over on 1st April. The title of the new company is AWE Management Ltd. (AWE-ML). In an embarrassing press report, details of the expected number of 'safety related incidents' to be expected in a year at AWE were taken from sensitive papers found on the street. Nukewatch wondered how well they could look after nuclear weapons if safe custody of documents proved to be a challenge?Safety failures at BNFL's plant at Sellafield in Cumbria and Lockheed's court challenge in the USA for off-site contamination did nothing to inspire confidence in the new regime. Staff cuts were also worrying, coming on top of cuts made by the previous management group. AWE-ML relies on long-serving AWE staff to continue Trident production and the decommissioning of Chevaline warheads. Recruitment difficulties at technician level cannot be solved by funding more and more university research projects. In times of high employment, AWE is not an attractive employer to young people, despite the constant awards and extra-mural activities reported in the in-house magazine Community Link, now called AWE Today.
Radioactive Discharges From AWE
This year the Environment Agency Authorisation for radioactive discharges from AWE was challenged by Emanuella Machiori and NAG Ltd. They sought to establish that military radioactive discharges have to be justified in the same way as civil ones. The resulting Judicial Review in the High Court was postponed several times and eventually lost in January 2001. An Appeal is now being sought.
The Nukewatch networkachieves an amazing success rate considering our meagre financial resources. The real resource is the dedicated people who volunteer time and vehicles and only claim petrol and phone costs when necessary.
Nukewatch Meetings Quarterly internet conferences continue to be very useful. We now use computer support and anyone who is interested to join in should contact him. The 2000 annual face-to-face meeting took place in Leeds after CND Conference. The next meeting also follows CND Conference in London and is at Douai Abbey, near Reading. Transport from Reading rail station will be provided at 6.30pm on Sunday and on Monday. The cost is £5/£10. Bring food to share and sheets. There is room for 20 overnight and 40 day visitors. It is hoped that as many people as possible come for a relaxing evening and Strategy Day to address the changes we face in monitoring infrequent warhead convoys, along with SNM convoys. (April 2001)
Published by Nukewatch
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Tel 01274 730759.