Tuesday, 23 December 2008

AWE Sneak New Planning Application During Xmas

Local campaigners have raised concerns that a planning application for a controversial new factory which will handle nuclear materials and explosives is being pushed through on the quiet over the Christmas holiday period. Is this another example of burying bad news, made famous by New Labour as a tactic for sneaking controversial policies through before they can be noticed.

Reading campaigners have asked the two local MPs to intervene to request an extension to the public consultation period for a planning application for a new ‘Main Production Facility’ at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Burghfield. Best wishes to them for trying, I expect they will be busy with families and festivities during this period.

The planned new production facility would replace the current ageing nuclear warhead assembly / disassembly plant at Burghfield, and is an essential element of the government’s Nuclear Warhead Capability Sustainment Programme, aimed at ensuring that the Atomic Weapons Establishment is able to produce new nuclear weapons into the 2020s and beyond.

The planning application was submitted on 17th December 2008 and a period of just three weeks has been allowed for consultation – much of which is covered by the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

The Burghfield site has a history of flooding, and the proposed development is a major industrial plant handling radioactive materials, explosives, and hazardous chemicals. The safety and environmental risks associated with the new plant are significant, and so it is important that a decision is not rushed and that plenty of time is available to investigate these concerns.

Ella Marsh, secretary of Reading Peace Group, said: “Consulting on a complicated and controversial planning application like this over the holiday period is not acceptable, and I fear it shows that the Ministry of Defence is trying to avoid public scrutiny of plans to rebuild the Burghfield nuclear weapons factory.

“There are over 50 highly technical documents about the new development on the West Berkshire Planning application website, and it is laughable to think that even the most concerned local person has the time to wade through all these and then write a letter to the council over Christmas – a time when everyone has better things to do.

“The government has just announced a lengthy national programme of consultation over its plans to build new nuclear power stations. The planning process for the new reactors is scheduled to last for eighteen months and will be dealt with at the national level, yet plans for Berkshire’s nuclear weapons factory are being sneaked through on the quiet by a local planning committee which meets at the village hall.

“We think it is important that everyone who wants to has the opportunity to comment on this important application – whether they are for it or against it – and so we’ve asked our local MPs to intervene and tell the authorities to show some common sense.”

1. The planning application for the new Main Production Facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment Burghfield has been submitted by the Ministry of Defence on behalf of AWE plc, and the decision on whether to grant it will be made by West Berkshire Council. Details of the application can be found on West Berkshire Council’s Planning Applications website at

2. In October Channel Four News revealed that AWE had covered up the impact of serious flooding in July 2007 which, according to the company, had ‘nearly overwhelmed’ the Burghfield site, and had prevented any live nuclear work on warheads taking place for nine months.

3. The Main Production Facility will cost hundreds of millions of pounds and will be constructed between 2009 - 2015, a period when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that taxes will rise and spending on public services will be cut as a result of the credit crunch.



Also the US firm Jacobs is trying buy into Atomic Weapons Establishment, which will do nothing to promote security but plenty to promote profits. US firm Jacobs, already a major contractor at AWE, announced its intentions on Wednesday the 17th December. If the deal is confirmed, AWE ML would fall into two-thirds American ownership. The other partners comprising AWE ML are US arms giant Lockheed Martin and British firm Serco.

Daniel Viesnik from Trident Ploughshares said, “Jacobs is making a grave error choosing to invest in AWE. Trident Ploughshares reserves the right to take nonviolent direct action against the company for its role in aiding and abetting crimes against humanity and other breaches of international law and treaties due to its involvement with Trident nuclear weapons. The current multi-billion pound expansion of AWE Aldermaston represents a material breach of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a criminal waste of taxpayers' money. All parties responsible will be held to account. Defence Secretary John Hutton must order the immediate suspension of all work relating to the maintenance and development of nuclear warheads, or face the consequences.”

1. Trident Ploughshares is a campaign to disarm the UK Trident nuclear weapons system in a nonviolent, open, peaceful and fully accountable manner.


2. Details of announcement by Jacobs :





3. On Friday 12th December, members and supporters of a Trident Ploughshares affinity group called the Muriel Lesters visited Jacob ’s Marble Arch office in London, delivering a seasonal message and asking the company to suspend all involvement in AWE and nuclear weapons production. Dressed in white overalls marked “weapons inspector” and festive hats and costumes, the group also visited the London offices of Lockheed Martin and Fluor - the latter being the other firm that was bidding for a stake in AWE ML. They distributed leaflets to workers and passers-by and sang popular festive tunes with specially modified lyrics.

Full report, press release, pictures and short video here:


4. During UN disarmament week in October, hundreds of members and supporters of Trident Ploughshares, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and related groups caused major disruption to AWE Aldermaston by blockading the site for several hours in what was one of the largest direct actions at the base for a decade. Thirty-three arrests were made.

More details here: http://blockawe.blogspot.com

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