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Last Updated: Monday, 16 July 2007, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Government to sell Trident stake
Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment
AWE is the headquarters of Britain's nuclear development programme
The UK government has said it will sell its one-third stake in the company responsible for the development of the country's nuclear programme.

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites in Berkshire have been the headquarters for the UK's atomic warhead capability for 50 years.

Ownership is shared by the government through its stake in British Nuclear Fuels, Serco and Lockheed Martin.

Serco and Lockheed have said they are "interested" in the government's stake.

AWE facts
Based in Aldermaston
Home to Britain's sole nuclear deterrant Trident
Trident will last until about 2020
AWE must guarantee Trident's safety without firing the warheads

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Secretary John Hutton said the government would seek to "maximise shareholder returns" through the deal and make sure the new AWE owners meet Ministry of Defence requirements.

London-based Serco and US contractor Lockheed have first refusal on the UK's position in AWE, which is responsible for designing, building, maintaining and decommissioning the UK's nuclear warheads.

It would also have to build a replacement for Trident should the order be given from the government.

Nuclear appeal

But the firms are obliged to pay the market rate.

This could be substantial given that the UK said earlier in the year that between 15bn and 20bn is due to be spent on new submarines to carry the Trident missiles until about 2050, analysts observed.

"As founding members of the consortium we are interested in exercising our pre-emption rights that will form part of the process," the companies said in a joint statement.

British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) chief executive Mike Parker said the sale was a further step toward a nuclear sell-off as part of its 2003 strategic review.

It follows the disposal of Westinghouse, its US powerplant arm, to Japan's Toshiba for $5.4bn (2.65bn) last year.

BNFL is also looking for a buyer for its hazardous waste clean-up unit British Nuclear Group, which currently operates the Sellafield site.

If Serco and Lockheed are successful in their bid, it will mark the first time the UK's Trident system will be operated by an overseas company.

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