Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office


  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 Nuclear Weapons.

  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 [2000] 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 operations—which remains a proposal—would 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[11].

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

11 July 2002

11   Appendix 7, Ev 107-108. Back

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