The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston has been at the centre of Britain's nuclear weapons production since 1950. Then called the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE), it replaced Fort Halstead where Britain's research on atomic weapons began in 1947. AWE Burghfield, where warheads are assembled, was opened at the same time.
The first atomic bomb, the "Blue Danube", tested off Australia in June 1952, was built at Aldermaston. In 1955 work started on the first thermo-nuclear or hydrogen bombs which were were tested in the Pacific, including at Christmas Island, in 1957.
These were the last "independent" nuclear weapons built at Aldermaston. From 1958 onwards, under the Mutual Defence Agreement, the UK and the US agreed to exchange information on "atomic weapon design, development, and fabrication capability".
Since 1958 all of the UK's nuclear weapons have been designed, tested and built (in collaboration with the US) at Aldermaston: the WE177, deployed on RAF and Royal Navy planes from 1966; the submarine-launched Polaris warhead, deployed from 1968, and the successor Chevaline warhead deployed from 1982.
All of these warheads were tested at the US underground test site in Nevada, on the land of the Western Shoshone people.
The warheads for the current Trident system were built at Aldermaston, and they are refurbished at AWE Burghfield. Since 2002, the government has invested in building new facilities at AWE, and recruited new staff to test, design and build the next generation of nuclear warheads.
AWPC is calling for an end to the production of nuclear warheads at Aldermaston, the decommissioning of the current stockpile, and AWE's expertise to be used for worldwide nuclear disarmament.
Developments at AWE
- In 2002, AWE Aldermaston and Burghfield embarked on a massive building programme which will equip the UK government to design, test and build a new generation of nuclear warheads;
- Since 2002, AWE have built the new "Orion" laser and the Gemini office complex; a massive supercomputer, essential to the design of new warheads, has been installed. A new High Explosives Fabrication Facility and several other buildings are under currently construction;
- At AWE Burghfield work is underway on a new Warhead Assembly Facility and supporting builings;
- Up to 1,500 new staff, including specialist warhead engineers, have been recruited;
- These developments started well before parliament voted in March 2007 to replace the current Trident system.
- Further planning applications for new buildings, including a new Uranium Enrichment Facility, are envisaged in the Site Development Strategy Plan;
- For a detailed chronology of construction and related events, see ...here;
- When Parliament voted in March 2007 to replace the current Trident system, they only agreed to new submarines and missiles.They did not vote to replace the warheads.
- Since 2007 the government have continued to claim that they have not yet made in a decision to replace the current warhead system, however continued building work at Aldermaston and other evidence suggests that this decision has already been made.
AWE Aldermaston and Burghfield are managed for the Ministry of Defence by AWE Management Ltd (AWE ml), by a consortium of three companies: the US arms giant Lockheed Martin, the British-based company SERCO and since December 2008, Jacobs Engineering, another US company with interests in the US nuclear industry.