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Atomic Weapons Establishment [AWE]

The primary role of the United Kingdom's Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) is research, design, development, production and in-service support of the UK's nuclear warheads. Operating under the authority of the MoD Procurement Executive, the AWE's principal task is to provide the warheads for the UK's nuclear deterrent. This involves research, design, development, manufacture, in-service support and safe dismantling and disposal when weapons are retired from service. British nuclear warheads are designed and developed at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston. They are manufactured at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Burghfield and at Aldermaston, using components made at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Cardiff.

The Atomic Weapons Establishment began life in the early 1950s at Aldermaston as the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) under the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. The AWRE was transfered to the MoD in 1973, and merged with the Directorate of Atomic Weapons Factories (Royal Ordnance Factories, or ROF) at Burghfield and Cardiff to form the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) on 1 September 1987. In 1993 the Ministry of Defence handed the responsibility for managing and operating AWE to Hunting-BRAE, a consortium comprising Hunting Engineering Ltd., Brown and Root Ltd. and Atomic Energy Authority. Hunting-BRAE is the contractor for the management and operation of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) comprising four sites at Aldermaston, Burghfield, Foulness and Cardiff.

One effect of these organizational changes has been the removal of various exemptions to licensing and health and safety legislation. With the removal of these exemptions, AWE plc (the operating company) has taken measures to meet required safety and environmental standards. The Atomic Weapons Establishment is implementing a comprehensive safety management system in order to comply with the Nuclear Installations Act. The Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations has granted a licence, effective from 01 July 1997, to the Atomic Weapons Establishment management contractor Hunting-BRAE Ltd. to operate the AWE sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield. The two sites will thus be brought within the same regulatory regime as civil nuclear sites and will be regularly inspected by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. This will provide independent assurance that nuclear related activities at AWE are carried out safely and pose no threat to the workforce, the public or the environment.

Warhead production for HMS VANGUARD took place in the A45 plant at AWE Aldermaston. Nuclear weapons are also manufactured and refurbished at AWE Burghfield, on the outskirts of Reading. Work started on the assembly of the first Trident warheads at AWE Burghfield in 1989. But shortages of staff at Burghfield led to rescheduling the assembly program, and transfer of some work to AWE Cardiff.

Between 1953 and 1970, the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, the forerunner of AWE, produced four main series of technical reports: B, (Bomb); E, (Weapon Effects); 0, (Research); and T, (Trials). Further separate series covered administrative and contractual matters and reports by AWRE Divisions.

Reading,  Berkshire
Telephone:   +44 (0)1734 814111
Fax:         +44 (0)1734 815320

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