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Atomic Weapons Establishment

Atomic Weapons Establishment

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For the World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 use of this facility, see RAF Aldermaston
RAF Aldermaston
RAF Aldermaston was a World War II airfield. It was used by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Eighth and Ninth Air Force as a troop carrier group base, and was assigned USAAF station No 467.-Origins:...



The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) is responsible for the design, manufacture and support of warheads
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

 for the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent
Nuclear weapons and the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom was the third country to test an independently developed nuclear weapon, in October 1952. It is one of the five "Nuclear Weapons States" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the UK ratified in 1968...

. AWE plc is responsible for the day-to-day operations of AWE. AWE plc is owned by a consortium of Jacobs Engineering Group
Jacobs Engineering Group
Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., a publicly traded company with over 50,000 employees and 2010 revenues of nearly $10 billion, provides technical, professional, and construction services globally. Headquartered in Pasadena, California, it was founded in 1947 by Dr. Joseph J. Jacobs. Jacobs offers...

, Lockheed Martin UK
Lockheed Martin U.K.
Lockheed Martin UK Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, headquartered in London, United Kingdom. The company was created on 1 July 1999, combining all of Lockheed Martin's UK operations into one company.-Divisions:...

 and Serco through AWE Management Ltd who hold a 25 year contract (until March 2025) to operate AWE. All AWE sites remain owned by the UK government
Government of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Government is the central government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Government is led by the Prime Minister, who selects all the remaining Ministers...

 who also hold a Golden Share
Golden Share
A Golden Share is a nominal share which is able to outvote all other shares in certain specified circumstances, often held by a government organization, in a government company undergoing the process of privatization and transformation into a stock-company....

 in AWE plc. The company is based close to Aldermaston
Aldermaston
Aldermaston is a rural village, civil parish and electoral ward in Berkshire, South-East England. In the 2001 United Kingdom Census, the parish had a population of 927. The village is on the southern edge of the River Kennet flood plain, near the Hampshire county boundary...

 (although the nearest town is Tadley
Tadley
Tadley is a town and civil parish in the English county of Hampshire.During the 1950s and 1960s, the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment , now known as AWE, became the area's largest employer, and a large number of houses were built during this period to accommodate AWRE workers...

 in Hampshire
Hampshire
Hampshire is a county on the southern coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, a historic cathedral city that was once the capital of England. Hampshire is notable for housing the original birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force...

), with major facilities at Burghfield
Burghfield
Burghfield is a village and civil parish in West Berkshire, England, close to the boundary with Reading.-Location:Burghfield is about southwest of Reading...

.

The Atomic Weapons Establishment is the successor of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE), which was built on the site of a former airfield, RAF Aldermaston
RAF Aldermaston
RAF Aldermaston was a World War II airfield. It was used by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Eighth and Ninth Air Force as a troop carrier group base, and was assigned USAAF station No 467.-Origins:...

. Other Atomic Weapons Establishment sites could be found at ROF Burghfield, Burghfield
Burghfield
Burghfield is a village and civil parish in West Berkshire, England, close to the boundary with Reading.-Location:Burghfield is about southwest of Reading...

 and ROF Cardiff, Llanishen
Llanishen
Llanishen is a district in the north of Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. Llanishen is well-known as the home of the 'Tax Offices', the tallest buildings in north Cardiff and a landmark for miles around...

, Cardiff
Cardiff
Cardiff is the capital, largest city and most populous county of Wales and the 10th largest city in the United Kingdom. The city is Wales' chief commercial centre, the base for most national cultural and sporting institutions, the Welsh national media, and the seat of the National Assembly for...

, the former Royal Ordnance Factories; Orford Ness
Orford Ness
Orford Ness is a cuspate foreland shingle spit on the Suffolk coast in Great Britain, linked to the mainland at Aldeburgh and stretching along the coast to Orford and down to North Wier Point, opposite Shingle Street. It is divided from the mainland by the River Alde, and was formed by longshore...

 and Foulness Island. The ROF Cardiff, Orford Ness and Foulness Island sites are now closed.

The establishment is the final destination for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is an anti-nuclear organisation that advocates unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom, international nuclear disarmament and tighter international arms regulation through agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty...

's annual march
Aldermaston Marches
The Aldermaston marches were protest demonstrations organised by the British anti-war Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1950s and 1960s. They took place on Easter weekend between the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire, England, and London, over a distance of...

 from Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is a public space and tourist attraction in central London, England, United Kingdom. At its centre is Nelson's Column, which is guarded by four lion statues at its base. There are a number of statues and sculptures in the square, with one plinth displaying changing pieces of...

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. The first Aldermaston March
Aldermaston Marches
The Aldermaston marches were protest demonstrations organised by the British anti-war Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1950s and 1960s. They took place on Easter weekend between the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire, England, and London, over a distance of...

 was conceived by the Direct Action Committee
Direct Action Committee
The Direct Action Committee against nuclear war was a pacifist organization formed "to assist the conducting of non-violent direct action to obtain the total renunciation of nuclear war and its weapons by Britain and all other countries as a first step in disarmament"...

 and took place in 1958. There is currently a monthly women's peace camp
Peace camp
Peace camps are a form of physical protest camp that is focused on anti-war activity. They are set up outside military bases by members of the peace movement who oppose either the existence of the military bases themselves, the armaments held there, or the politics of those who control the bases...

 held outside the Establishment to protest
Protest
A protest is an expression of objection, by words or by actions, to particular events, policies or situations. Protests can take many different forms, from individual statements to mass demonstrations...

 against its existence.

Atomic Weapons Research Establishment


The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) was established on 1 April 1950, by the Ministry of Supply
Ministry of Supply
The Ministry of Supply was a department of the UK Government formed in 1939 to co-ordinate the supply of equipment to all three British armed forces, headed by the Minister of Supply. There was, however, a separate ministry responsible for aircraft production and the Admiralty retained...

, at the former RAF Aldermaston
RAF Aldermaston
RAF Aldermaston was a World War II airfield. It was used by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Eighth and Ninth Air Force as a troop carrier group base, and was assigned USAAF station No 467.-Origins:...

 airfield. The airfield was constructed in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and had been used by the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 and the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

's Eighth
Eighth Air Force
The Eighth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Global Strike Command . It is headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana....

 and Ninth Air Force
Ninth Air Force
The Ninth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force's Air Combat Command . It is headquartered at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina....

 as a troop carrier (C-47) group base, and was assigned USAAF station No 467. AWRE's first Director was William Penney
William Penney, Baron Penney
William George Penney, Baron Penney OM, KBE PhD, DSc, , FRS, FRSE, FIC, Hon FCGI was a British mathematician who was responsible for the development of British nuclear technology, following World War II...

.

Changes in ownership


In 1954 AWRE was transferred to the newly created United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority is a UK government research organisation responsible for the development of nuclear fusion power. It is an executive non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and was formerly chaired by Lady Barbara Judge CBE...

 (UKAEA). In 1971, the production activities of UKAEA were transferred to the newly-created British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL).

In 1973 AWRE was transferred to the Procurement Executive
MoD Procurement Executive
The MoD Procurement Executive was the acquisition organisation of the Ministry of Defence.The Procurement Executive was established on 2 August 1971 as a single procurement agency for all three services with Derek Rayner as the first Chief of Defence Procurement...

 of the Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Defence is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces....

. Parts of AWRE's weapons production processes were carried out at two Royal Ordnance Factories (ROFs): ROF Burghfield and ROF Cardiff. In 1984 these two ROFs were separated from the other ROFs; which were then formed into a government-owned defence company, Royal Ordnance plc
Royal Ordnance
Royal Ordnance plc was formed on 2 January 1985 as a public corporation, owning the majority of what until then were the remaining United Kingdom government-owned Royal Ordnance Factories which manufactured explosives, ammunition, small arms including the Lee-Enfield rifle, guns and military...

 and was privatised
Privatization
Privatization is the incidence or process of transferring ownership of a business, enterprise, agency or public service from the public sector to the private sector or to private non-profit organizations...

 in 1987. ROF Burghfield and ROF Cardiff remained within the Procurement Executive and came under the control of AWRE.

The formation of AWE


In 1987, AWRE was combined with ROF Burghfield and ROF Cardiff to form the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE). These sites being renamed AWE Burghfield and AWE Cardiff (the latter was closed in 1997).

It remained with the Ministry of Defence, Procurement Executive. However, in 1989, the UK government announced its intention to find a suitable private company to run AWE under a Government Owned/Contractor Operated (GO-CO) arrangement.

Private management


In 1993 the government awarded a contract to Hunting-BRAE, a consortium of Hunting Engineering, Brown and Root and AEA Technology
AEA Technology
AEA Technology plc was formed in 1996 as the privatised offshoot of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. It is a constituent of the FTSE Fledgling Index. Originally it consisted of divisions with expertise in a wide variety of areas, mostly the products of nuclear-related research...

. During Hunting-BRAE's management AWE decommissioned the RAFs
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 WE177 freefall nuclear bomb. In 1998 the company suffered two prosecutions for safety breaches, one for discharge of tritium
Tritium
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The nucleus of tritium contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of protium contains one proton and no neutrons...

 into a nearby stream http://cndyorks.gn.apc.org/news/articles/awe2.htm and another for an incident where two workers inhaled plutonium
Plutonium
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

 http://www.ecology.at/nni/index.php?p=site&s=4.

In 1999 Hunting-BRAE lost the contract to AWE Management Ltd (AWE ML), a consortium of BNFL
BNFL
British Nuclear Fuels Limited was a nuclear energy and fuels company owned by the UK Government. It was a former manufacturer and transporter of nuclear fuel , ran reactors, generated and sold electricity, reprocessed and managed spent fuel , and decommissioned nuclear plants and other similar...

, Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin is an American global aerospace, defense, security, and advanced technology company with worldwide interests. It was formed by the merger of Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta in March 1995. It is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, in the Washington Metropolitan Area....

 and Serco. AWE ML's subsidiary, AWE plc, assumed responsibility for the operation of all AWE sites on 1 April 2000. This was not full privatisation as the Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Defence is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces....

 continued to own all the AWE sites as well as a Golden Share
Golden Share
A Golden Share is a nominal share which is able to outvote all other shares in certain specified circumstances, often held by a government organization, in a government company undergoing the process of privatization and transformation into a stock-company....

 in AWE plc.

Critics pointed out that BNFL and Lockheed Martin did not have perfect safety records either. BNFL suffered embarrassing revelations of falsified quality checks in nuclear fuels and Lockheed was the subject of scathing reports on the operation of U.S. nuclear facilities. Lockheed's failings included safety concerns at the Y-12 facility
Y-12 National Security Complex
The Y-12 National Security Complex is a United States Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration facility located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, near the Oak Ridge National Laboratory...

 at Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Oak Ridge is a city in Anderson and Roane counties in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Tennessee, about west of Knoxville. Oak Ridge's population was 27,387 at the 2000 census...

, an American weapons plant similar in certain ways to Aldermaston.

In December 2008, the BNFL share in AWE Management Ltd was sold to Jacobs Engineering Group
Jacobs Engineering Group
Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., a publicly traded company with over 50,000 employees and 2010 revenues of nearly $10 billion, provides technical, professional, and construction services globally. Headquartered in Pasadena, California, it was founded in 1947 by Dr. Joseph J. Jacobs. Jacobs offers...

, an American engineering services company.http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/Jacobs-Agrees-Acquire-Share-AWE/story.aspx?guid={8AE973B9-8D5A-42F5-97E0-7EAAF2D5643F}

AWE's responsibilities


AWE is tasked to help the United Kingdom maintain a credible and effective minimum nuclear deterrent:
  • To maintain the warheads for the Trident
    UK Trident programme
    The UK Trident programme is the United Kingdom's Trident missile-based nuclear weapons programme. Under the programme, the Royal Navy operates 58 nuclear-armed Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles and around 200 nuclear warheads on 4 Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines from...

     nuclear deterrent safely and reliably in service.
  • To maintain a capability to design a new weapon, should it ever be required.
  • To complete the dismantling and disposal of redundant warheads replaced by Trident.
  • To develop the skills, technologies and techniques that could underpin future arms limitation treaties


A significant programme of investment took place over the three year period from 2005 to 2008, of about £350 million per year, to provide assurance that the existing Trident missile
Trident missile
The Trident missile is a submarine-launched ballistic missile equipped with multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles . The Fleet Ballistic Missile is armed with nuclear warheads and is launched from nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines . Trident missiles are carried by fourteen...

 warhead is reliable and safe throughout its intended in-service life. The new facilities and extra supporting infrastructure are required in the absence of live nuclear testing no longer allowed under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty bans all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 September 1996 but it has not entered into force.-Status:...

.
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm050719/wmstext/50719m03.htm#50719m03.html_sbhd0

AWE cooperates with the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

 in carrying out subcritical nuclear tests at the Nevada underground test site
Nevada Test Site
The Nevada National Security Site , previously the Nevada Test Site , is a United States Department of Energy reservation located in southeastern Nye County, Nevada, about northwest of the city of Las Vegas...

 to obtain scientific data to maintain the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons. Subcritical tests are not banned by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty bans all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 September 1996 but it has not entered into force.-Status:...

 on nuclear weapons. The most recent test took place in February 2006. http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200602/s1577409.htm

The cost of decommissioning AWE facilities when they become redundant, including nuclear waste disposal, was estimated at £3.4 billion in 2005.http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm060724/text/60724w1879.htm#06072426000088

AWE Blacknest


Formerly part of the Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Defence is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces....

, AWE Blacknest has, for over 40 years, specialised in forensic seismology
Forensic seismology
Forensic seismology is the forensic use of the techniques of seismology to detect and study distant phenomena, particularly explosions, including those of nuclear weapons....

, researching techniques to distinguish the seismic signals generated by underground nuclear explosions from those generated by earthquakes.

Blacknest's main function is to develop and maintain expertise in using seismic techniques to detect and identify underground explosions. This expertise and the techniques have been used in the past to provide assessments for the UK Government on nuclear explosions carried out by other countries. The expertise is to be used as part of Britain's contribution to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty which was signed in 1996, but which had as of 2011 not come into force.

See also

  • 1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement
    1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement
    The 1958 US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement is a bilateral treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom on nuclear weapons cooperation.It was signed after the UK successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb during Operation Grapple. While the U.S...

  • Atomic Energy Research Establishment
    Atomic Energy Research Establishment
    The Atomic Energy Research Establishment near Harwell, Oxfordshire, was the main centre for atomic energy research and development in the United Kingdom from the 1940s to the 1990s.-Founding:...

  • Operation Grapple
    Operation Grapple
    Operation Grapple, and operations Grapple X, Grapple Y and Grapple Z, were the names of British nuclear tests of the hydrogen bomb. They were held 1956—1958 at Malden Island and Christmas Island in the central Pacific Ocean. Nine nuclear detonations took place during the trials, resulting in...

  • Tube Alloys
    Tube Alloys
    Tube Alloys was the code-name for the British nuclear weapon directorate during World War II, when the development of nuclear weapons was kept at such a high level of secrecy that it had to be referred to by code even in the highest circles of government...

  • William Penney
  • John Dolphin CBE
    John Dolphin
    John Robert Vernon Dolphin CBE was a British engineer and inventor who became the Commanding Officer of the top secret Second World War Special Operations Executive 'Station IX' where specialist military equipment was developed. During his time there his inventions included the Welman midget...


Further reading

  • Arnold, Lorna (2001). Britain and the H-bomb. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-94742-8.
  • Freeman, Roger A. (1994). UK Airfields of the Ninth: Then and Now. Old Harlow: After the Battle. ISBN 0-900913-80-0.
  • Gowing, Margaret
    Margaret Gowing
    Professor Margaret Gowing, CBE, was an English historian.- Overview :Margaret Gowing was involved with the production of several volumes of the officially sponsored History of the Second World War, published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office in conjunction with Longman's, Green and Co...

     and Arnold, Lorna
    Lorna Arnold
    Lorna Arnold is a historian who has written a number of books connected with the British nuclear weapons programmes.As the second official historian of the British nuclear weapons programmes, she has had access to previously secret documents and personally knew many of the people involved...

     (1974). Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy, 1945-1952. Volume 1: Policy Making. London: The Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-333-15781-8.
  • Gowing, Margaret
    Margaret Gowing
    Professor Margaret Gowing, CBE, was an English historian.- Overview :Margaret Gowing was involved with the production of several volumes of the officially sponsored History of the Second World War, published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office in conjunction with Longman's, Green and Co...

     and Arnold, Lorna
    Lorna Arnold
    Lorna Arnold is a historian who has written a number of books connected with the British nuclear weapons programmes.As the second official historian of the British nuclear weapons programmes, she has had access to previously secret documents and personally knew many of the people involved...

    (1974). Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy, 1945-1952. Volume 2: Policy Execution. London: The Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-333-16695-7.

External links