Aldermaston 2008: the bomb stops here!

IssueFebruary 2008
Feature by CND

This Easter Monday 24 March the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is holding a massive “surround the base” event at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Aldermaston.

It will be a celebration of 50 years of campaigning for nuclear disarmament and a clear demand for an end to Aldermaston's continuing role as the beating heart of Britain's nuclear warhead production.

Get on board

Each of Aldermaston's seven gates will have a theme of one of the decades, the '50s, '60s, all the way through to the '00s, plus a “timeless” gate organised by the women's peace camp which has been held at the site for the past 22 years. Different regional, national and specialist sections of CND, faith and environmental groups are involved. Both gate-based and roaming entertainment and speakers are being organised and more artists, musicians and entertainers are invited to participate. See right for contact details.

More than 5000 people are expected to attend, from across Britain and beyond, and coaches are being organised to transport participants from all regions (see website for details, right).

One delegation is travelling all the way from Japan, and includes Hibakusha, survivors of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are planning a peace walk - to arrive at Aldermaston on Easter Monday - from nearby Greenham Common (former home to US cruise missiles and historic symbol of popular resistance). Fifty years is enough! For the past five decades there have been sustained campaigns to halt Britain's nuclear weapons programme and Aldermaston has become both a symbol and tangible location of grassroots protest and resistance.

With parliament voting in March 2007 for a new fleet of nuclear-armed submarines, and with the construction of facilities for a new generation of nuclear warheads already underway at Aldermaston, it's time to send a clear message to the government that 50 years is enough!

Trident replacement is expected to cost the taxpayer more than £25 billion and, when the total lifetime costs are taken into consideration, it is predicted to cost more than £75 billion.

Currently, the only nuclear threat Britain faces is that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty may fall apart - by breaking it themselves, the British government is setting an incredibly poor example to aspirational nuclear weapons states.

The WMD profiteers

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston designs and manufactures the warheads for the United Kingdom's nuclear weapons. Since the mid-1990s it has been a “government-owned-contractor-operated” (GOCO) affair which, since 2000, has been managed by a consortium of British Nuclear Fuels, Lockheed Martin and Serco, called AWE Management Ltd.

The one third stake of AWE- ML owned by BNFL is currently up for grabs, with two US companies, Fluor and Jacobs, emerging as the only likely winners. It is therefore likely that within coming months Britain's nuclear weapons programme will come under the day-to-day operation control of a consortium which is two-thirds US run.

Investment and development

In 2002, AWE published a plan to redevelop and build new facilities at the site. According to AWE personnel, these developments are on the scale of Heathrow's Terminal Five and the construction industry has estimated that there could be around £12bn in contracts over the next decade.

These developments clearly tie in with the March 2007 parliamentary decision to develop a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines: Aldermaston will build the warheads for this new system.

At the heart of the new developments at Aldermaston are new multi-million-pound supercomputer facilities which will give AWE one of the most powerful computer systems in Europe - possibly only exceeded by the supercomputers used in the USA for their atomic weapons development - and will minimise the need for live testing (prohibited under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty).

The old laser facility at the site is being replaced by a new facility which is 1000 times more powerful. Despite lengthy delays caused by campaigners, the structure of the facility is now almost complete.

Facilities to build warheads will be refurbished and new ones built. These include new facilities for handling plutonium, highly enriched uranium, tritium, high explosives and new warhead assembly facilities. Additional warhead specialists and engineers have been recruited in recent years and this element of the workforce continues to grow.

Now more than ever

CND has been spearheading the “No Trident Replacement” campaign, and this Easter's event is an important focus for mass opposition to the government's plans.

CND is calling on everyone involved in the anti-nuclear movement over the past five decades to come together to mark this historic event, not just as a celebration of 50 years of anti-nuclear protest, but as part of a renewed campaign to halt Trident replacement. As one early marcher recently commented, “I marched because we were the first generation to realise that the world could end in half an hour. We walked to save this precious world. We can `ban the bomb'. I still believe we can do it”.

Come to Aldermaston on Easter Monday and join with thousands of others to surround the base.