A 25-YEAR CONTRACT to manage Britain’s nuclear weapons stockpile may be torn up by the government amid spiralling costs and overruns. Concerns are mounting over poor performance on a series of key contracts at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), the topsecret nuclear research and warhead manufacturer at Aldermaston, Berkshire. The site is run by AWE Management, a venture split equally between the embattled outsourcer Serco, US engineer Jacobs and defence giant Lockheed Martin. AWE Management was awarded a 10-year, £2.2bn contract to run the site in 2000, later extended to 2025. Taxpayers have pumped about £9bn into AWE since 2000. But industry sources say AWE is wrestling with delays on projects such as Pegasus, [see item on p.3] a new complex for enriching uranium that was valued at £634m in 2011. Pegasus was halted in January amid a review, according to a document from the Office for Nuclear Regulation. AWE is also said to be struggling with Project Mensa, a £734m facility for assembling and disassembling warheads.
Staffing issues and organisational change remain the biggest safety challenges to the UK’s military nuclear programme according to a report published by an internal Ministry of Defence (MoD) safety regulator. MoD’s ability to sustain a sufficient number of competent nuclear skilled personnel is “a long standing issue” and remains “the principal threat to the maintenance of safety in the defence nuclear programme”, whilst “continued Duty Holder involvement is required to ensure that organisation capability remains robust” in the face of significant changes to the way MoD activities are organised and managed. The two issues
will require “sustained attention” over the medium to long term to ensure safe delivery of the defence nuclear programme, according to the annual report of the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR) for 2013-14.
Nuclear Information Service http://goo.gl/pR01YP
The Labour party would look at cutting the fleet of submarines carrying Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent to three vessels from four if it wins a national election on May 7, the party’s finance spokesman Ed Balls said . Replacing the vessels carrying the Trident missiles –four ageing Vanguard-class submarines– is expected to cost £20 billion, with a final decision on the renewal due to be taken in 2016.The Scottish National Party, who could hold the balance of power after the election, oppose the renewal but this month dropped a demand Labour must also do so in return for their support. Balls aid a Labour government would hold a defence review after the election and, while the party was committed to renewing Trident and maintaining a continuous at sea deterrent, this did “not necessarily” mean replacing all four submarines.