In August 2002, the Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston outlined a raft of new facilities it wanted to build over the coming years. Amongst more benign projects like greening the site and providing better facilities for its employees, the nuclear bomb factory's plans included a massive laser, and hydrodynamics and explosives facilities.
Fast-forward four years and, after a bitter struggle by anti-nuclear campaigners, work on the first of the most contentious facilities - the Orion laser facility - is well underway. In recent weeks, more and more heavy machinery - pile drivers, cranes, and devices for helping create the huge concrete foundations - have been arriving at AWE and, what was an empty brownfield a few months ago, has become a massive construction site. The Atomic Weapons Establishment itself has suggested that the scale of the construction work planned at AWE will rival Heathrow's Terminal Five. The Orion laser is the fourth major project since AWE laid out its plans in 2002, with new office accommodation and a supercomputing shed already being either completed or near completion; developments at AWE will continue for many years to come.
Over the past four years women from the Aldermaston Women's Peace Camp(aign) and the mixed direct action group Block the Builders have been using a range of tactics to try to hinder - possibly even stop - work at Aldermaston.
This has predominantly been in the form of intervening in the planning process - which was pretty hard going as developments on Crown land were, until this year, immune from the normal planning regime - and also through taking nonviolent direct action at AWE and its contractors' sites, in attempts at “blocking the builders” in a very practical manner.
In 2006 there have been five or six blockades of AWE and visits to concrete company LaFarge's Aldermaston depot, local haulier John Stacey's yard and the Chippenham offices of M+W Zander - the German company which has a #20m contract for overseeing the design and build of Orion. The Orion project is estimated to cost #183m in total and tens if not hundreds of companies - big and small - are in the process of turning a profit from AWE's development. Construction, engineering and design companies like Laing, Jacobs Engineering and WS Atkins all have major contracts.
Block the builders
With a public decision on the future of Trident expected by the end of the year and with work continuing on Orion - and more facilities in the pipeline - Block the Builders is continuing to organise public blockades of AWE for the next few months.
However, the group also told Peace News that it is about to launch a three-month campaign of unannounced nonviolent actions at AWE and its contractors' premises and is encouraging more activists to form affinity groups and get involved in obstructing work at the site. One source told PN, “whatever the politicians are saying, work is well underway on new weapons facilities at AWE - and it represents a massive investment. It's pretty obvious what's going on here”.