Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth
ACTIVITIES AT THE ATOMIC WEAPONS ESTABLISHMENT,
1. The Foreign Affairs Committee has asked
for a Note on activities at the Atomic Weapons Establishment,
Aldermaston, and the compatibility of those activities with the
UK's international treaty obligations.
2. The primary relevant treaty obligation,
from which others fall, is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation
of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). In summary, this Treaty commits Non-Nuclear
Weapon States parties not to manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons
and Nuclear Weapons States (as defined by the NPT) not to aid
other states to acquire them. The United Kingdom is a Nuclear
Weapons State. Other NPT obligations relate to agreements safeguarding
nuclear materials, the development of peaceful uses of nuclear
technology, regional arrangements such as nuclear weapon free
zones and, under Article VI, obligations relating to nuclear disarmament:
3. "Each of the Parties to the Treaty
undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures
relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early
date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and
complete disarmament under strict and effective international
control." Article VI, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of
4. The Atomic Weapons Establishment is Government-owned
but operated by a contractor. The Ministry of Defence is the main
customer for AWE's work. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and
the MOD are in regular contact with regard to AWE and the international
implications of the activities carried out at its sites. We are
confident that activities at AWE are fully consistent with the
UK's international commitments, including the NPT and the Comprehensive
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). AWE also carry out nuclear weapons
arms control verification research directed towards scientific
and technical verification in support of both the NPT and CTBT.
For example, AWE played a leading role in the UK-held seminar
on the civil and scientific benefits of the CTBT's verification
systems in May this year.
5. The Secretary of State for Defence and
the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence described
the UK's nuclear weapons policy in statements to the House of
Commons on 17 June, making clear that there has been no change
since the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) in 1998. We currently
have no plans for a replacement for Trident, and no decision on
any possible successor system is yet needed. We are not planning
any new weapon designs, nor are we modifying current systems to
lower their yield. As set out in the SDR (Supporting Essay five,
paragraph 14), the Government intends to maintain a minimum capability
at AWE to design and produce a successor to Trident, should this
prove necessary. This capability is consistent with the terms
of the international treaties to which the UK is a party.
6. AWE's Annual Report for 2000, cited in
some press reports, states that: "During the course of the
year  a plan to rationalise the manufacturing and storage
operations at both the Aldermaston and Burghfield sites was developed.
As part of the plan, a project to consolidate the production facilities
on the Burghfield site has started. This will bring operating
efficiencies and improvements in safety management and control
and is an important step towards achieving the transfer of all
operations from the AWE Burghfield site to AWE Aldermaston."
This consolidation of operationswhich remains a proposalwould
also be in full conformity with our international obligations.
7. As a responsible Nuclear Weapon State,
the UK is committed to the safe stockpile stewardship of its nuclear
weapons. The replacement of older facilities and the decommissioning
of those no longer required is part of an ongoing programme of
work at AWE to meet safety, regulatory and operational requirements.
The new tritium facility at AWE, for example, is a handling (not
production) facility which replaced an old facility.
8. The Government is committed to openness
and transparency about the stockpile as far as is possible within
Treaty and national security constraints. This commitment was
demonstrated by an article published in Nature on 21 February.
This article highlighted several issues, such as the planning
permission being sought for a hydrodynamic facility to aid UK
compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
9. Further information about the NPT and
its recent Preparatory Committee, including UK steps on disarmament,
was provided to the FAC in the form of a Memorandum FCO/FAC/009-02
dated 26 June 2002.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
11 July 2002
11 Appendix 7, Ev 107-108. Back