Feb 8, 2009

US using British atomic weapons factory for its nuclear programme

Matthew Taylor and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian

The US military has been using Britain's atomic weapons factory to carry out research into its own nuclear warhead programme, according to evidence seen by the Guardian.

US defence officials said that "very valuable" warhead research has taken place at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire as part of an ongoing and secretive deal between the British and American governments.

The Ministry of Defence admitted it is working with the US on the UK's "existing nuclear warhead stockpile and the range of replacement options that might be available" but declined to give any further information.

Last night, opposition MPs called for a full parliamentary inquiry into the extent of the collaboration at Aldermaston and campaign groups warned any such deal was in breach of international law. They added that it also undermined Britain's claim to have an independent nuclear weapons programme and meant British taxpayers were effectively subsidising America's nuclear programme.

The US president, Barack Obama, while on the campaign trail said he wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons and that one of his first actions on taking office would be to "stop the development of new nuclear weapons". But the Pentagon is at odds with the president. The defence secretary, Robert Gates, and other senior officials argue that the US's existing arsenal needs to be upgraded and that would not constitute "new" weapons.

Kate Hudson, of CND, said: "Any work preparing the way for new warheads cuts right across the UK's commitment to disarm, which it signed up to in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. That this work may be contributing to both future US and British warheads is nothing short of scandalous."

Nick Harvey, defence spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said parliament and the country would react with "outrage" at the prospect of British taxpayers funding a new US nuclear weapon.

"All this backroom dealing and smoke and mirrors policy is totally unacceptable, the government must open the Aldermaston accounts to full parliamentary scrutiny," he added.

The extent of US involvement at Aldermaston came to light in an interview with John Harvey, policy and planning director at the US National Nuclear Security Administration, carried out last year by the thinktanks Chatham House and the Centre for Strategic Studies.

Referring to "dual axis hydrodynamic" experiments which, with the help of computer modelling, replicate the conditions inside a warhead at the moment it starts to explode, Harvey said: "There are some capabilities that the UK has that we don't have and that we borrow... that I believe we have been able to exploit that's been very valuable to us."

It is unclear whether the experiments are still being carried out but, in the same interview, Harvey admitted that the US and UK had struck a new deal over the level of cooperation, including work on US plans for a new generation of nuclear warhead known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). He said: "We have recently, I can't tell you when, taken steps to amend the MDA [Mutual Defence Agreement], not only to extend it but to amend it to allow for a broader extent of cooperation than in the past, and this has to do with the RRW effort."

Campaigners said the comments represent the first direct evidence that the US is using UK facilities to develop its nuclear programme. Lawyers acting on their behalf said the increasing levels of cooperation and the extension the MDA breach the non-proliferation treaty, which states: "Each nuclear weapon state party to the treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices indirectly or indirectly."

The MoD admitted the two countries are working together, "examining both the optimum life of the UK's existing nuclear warhead stockpile and the range of replacement options that might be available to inform decisions on whether and how we may need to refurbish or replace the existing warhead likely to be necessary in the next parliament".

Congress has stopped funding research into RRW but campaigners believe the US military may have used facilities in the UK to get around the restrictions at home.

"Billions of pounds have been poured into the Atomic Weapons Establishment over recent years to build new research facilities," said Hudson. "If these are being used to support US programmes outside Congress's controls on spending, it raises even more serious questions about why the British taxpayer is paying for a so-called 'independent deterrent'."


Anonymous said...

Another non-story. The United States and the United Kingdom have been collaborating on nuclear weapons since their inception. That collaboration has been in the best interests of both countries. These days, the UK seems far more interested in their technical nuclear capabilities than the United States does. That disparity should come as no surprise given the political and profit emphasis of the US nuclear weapons program.

Anonymous said...

Someone will no doubt try to make political hay out of this, but as the previous poster indicated, it is nothing new. It may be a surprise to the UK press, but that's only because they have been pretending they don't have nukes. The ongoing exchanges with the Brits, both in people and in nuclear weapon science and technology, under the auspices of the Mutual Defense Agreement JOWOGS, continues to benefit both countries.

Anonymous said...

The Brits have been coming to PX for decades.

Anonymous said...

There has been cooperation between the US and the UK, but it would have been far better if NNSA's John Harvey had just said "no comment." By opening his mouth, he created problems were none existed before.

Way to go, NNSA. Heckavajob!

Anonymous said...

Maybe in the not too distant future, Iran and North Korea can help the US with it's rapidly declining nuclear weapons research capability. We'll need some other country to help make up for the loss of the Brit's research support.

Anonymous said...

Obama want to scrap nucs all together, Chu wants to wash his hands of us, and other unnamed officials ship our work off to other countries. Our labs are screwed folks!

This article also clears up why they want to shut down Site 300. They're letting the Brits do that work and pick up the tab.

I'm loosing faith in my country. It's FULL of fools!

Anonymous said...

10:03 pm: "Obama want (sic) to scrap nucs (sic) all together...I'm loosing (sic) faith in my country. It's FULL of fools!"

I'm "loosing" faith in my countrymen in regards to their ability to express themselves about "nucs" or anything else. Geez, can a LANL blogger be so completely ignorant about language? (Or, maybe, so completely drunk?)

Anonymous said...

I don't see the story here. One of the last briefings I gave at DAHRT in 2007 involved visitors from AWE. If I recall also, the shot scheduled at NTS in '92 after Divider was also a joint US/AWE effort (Icecap). So, what's the big news about the UK and US continuing this long standing collaboration on this topic?

Anonymous said...

News flash, the Brits fire the occasional hydro at LANL, too.

How ironic it would be, if LANL can manage to defend its practice of employing herds of uncleared foreign nationals, but can't defend its practice of collaborating with the cleared ones.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

2/9/09 10:26 AM

"Let's all just stop for a moment and be thankful that this is being settled by lawyers and probably out of court. Because the prospect of what a disrunteld veteran scientist or engineer at the nation's premier nuclear research institution might do is frightening."

Hummm...At least scientist/engineers at our nation's premier nuclear research labs have extensive background checks, pee in the bottle, & many have to visit with the site shrink annually to maintain their clearances.

I can think of many other occupations involving public safety/health that don't have this kind of scrutiny that have opportunity to do "frightening" things.

Perhpas we should perp walk all these people out the door also.

Hey, I've got an idea - lets start with Congress :)

Anonymous said...

It's about time that we (U.S.) actually will get something substantive from this cooperative agreement with the U.K. Since the inception of the agreement, all we (U.S.) only got is a bunch of United frequent flyer miles for our engineers/scientists and an opportunity to see London and Big Ben. Those junkets are disguised under the name of JOWOGs, HOGWOGs, TWCPs, and the like. Since our production plants and Labs can't succeed, then let's pay the U.K. to make it happen. In the mean-time we can clean-up the environmental disaster in the U.S. made during the Cold War.

Anonymous said...

6:40 pm: "In the mean-time we can clean-up the environmental disaster in the U.S. made during the Cold War."

Guess what? The UK has many of the same envoronmental problems that the US does, dating from the cold war. Only, they don't call it a "disaster" like you do. Stiff upper lip, you know? Don't run around screaming with your hair on fire for every little thing.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know we worked, at this moment, at a factory. These people been talking to the Santa Fe weenies. Maybe in the future if we turn into pit central, but now?

Anonymous said...

OK, no future Star Wars shield for the Brits, those ungrateful little limeys.