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Page last updated at 13:08 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Submarines to come to Berkshire?
By Emma Midgley
BBC Radio Berkshire

A trident missile
Britain's Trident submarines will be cut from four to three

Two Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites in Berkshire could be used to dismantle and store waste from Britian's defunct nuclear submarines.

AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield have been included on a shortlist by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to deal with the decommissioning the submarines.

The two Berkshire sites have been included in a provisional list of 12 locations for the waste storage sites.

The news has sparked concern among some anti-nuclear campaigners.

Aldermaston and the surrounding area has long been a hotbed for the anti-nuclear movement. The headquarters of the Atomic Weapons Establishment is based at Aldermaston, and it is also the centre of design and research and development of the Trident missile programme.

History of the peace protests

Since 1958, when 10,000 people marched from London to Aldermaston in protest at Britain's first hydrogen bomb tests, AWE Aldermaston has been the site of campaigns against nuclear weapons.

Nearby, RAF Station Greenham Common was used by both the Royal Air Force and United States Army until the Cold War ended and it closed in 1993.

A protest march from Aldermaston
In 1962 Hiroshima survivors led an anti-nuclear march from Aldermaston

In protest at the Cruise missiles stored there, the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp was formed in 1981.

The camp became well know when on 1 April 1983, tens of thousands of protestors formed a 14-mile human chain from Greenham to Aldermaston and the ordnance factory at Burghfield.

In 2008, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood was among protestors who demonstrated at the atomic weapons centre in Aldermaston to mark the 50th anniversary of the first anti-nuclear march to the base in 1958.

Decommissioning

Now up to 15 submarines and their reactor compartments could be dismantled and the scrap then placed in storage at the two Berkshire sites on the MoD shortlist.

Peter Burt, Director of the Reading-based Nuclear Information Service, said: "Most people don't realise that, as well as manufacturing nuclear weapons, AWE also acts as a nuclear dump site for much of the military radioactive waste that it produces.

Women at the Greenham Common's Peace Camp
The Greenham Common Woman's Peace Camp was formed in 1981

"There has always been public concern about safety and environmental issues at AWE, and radioactive waste, because of its toxicity and the long timescales for which it remains active, is a particularly controversial issue.

"Even the most enthusiastic supporter of nuclear weapons is likely to have concerns about transporting large quantities of radioactive waste across the country and dumping them on local communities here in Berkshire."

'Good record'

However, Newbury MP Richard Benyon said that Aldermaston was well placed to deal with the decommissioning of the nuclear submarines.

He said: "Aldermaston has a very good record on decommissioning. It decommissions nuclear weapons from other parts of the world as well as our own.

"I don't think people should feel this is any massive change that's been taking place - or it puts us under any additional threat or lack of safety. Safety will continue to be at the forefront of operations."

The MP said that decommissioning of the submarines was 'good news'.

"We are going to have fewer missiles under the new proposals, and I hope one day to get to the position when we don't need a nuclear deterrent, " he said.

"But I think we do at the moment. I think Aldermaston will continue to pay an important role in maintaining our nuclear deterrent and an important part in de-commissioning no longer required weapons we had in the past."

A spokesman from the MoD said: "No decisions on siting have yet been taken for either submarine dismantling or waste storage. We will consult widely on the location."

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Mad Scientist, Tadley

Although it's true that AWE has lots of expertise in decommissioning nuclear weapons, Richard Benyon is a little wide of the mark in saying that Aldermaston has decommissioned nuclear weapons from other parts of the world. A moment's thought shows that no state would ever transfer nuclear weapons - and the most secret details of its weapons technology - to another state. Regardless of security considerations, this would be unlawful under the terms of the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prohibits the transfer of nuclear materials and expertise. I think AWE may have helped provide advice on decommissioning ex Soviet nuclear facilities after the Cold War, though, which may be where Richard is getting confused.

The issue here is not decommissioning warheads, however - it is what is the best way of dealing with radioactive waste from redundant nuclear powered submarines. The waste exists as a legacy from our military nuclear programme and we will have to deal with it somehow, but clearly there are big questions about whether Aldermaston would be a wise location for storing radioactive waste indefinitely, and whether the risks of transporting waste from wherever the submarines would be dismantled to Aldermaston could be minimised.

As yet no decision has been made to choose Aldermaston as a dump site. It is just one of 12 sites on a shortlist prepared by the Ministry of Defence. Before any decision is made there needs to be a lot of public debate and consultation with the public locally on the best option for dealing with this waste. What is not acceptable is for the Ministry of Defence to make decisions in secret and then force them upon a local community, and I'd like to see Richard Benyon and other local MPs and councils calling for an open debate on this issue before the site at which this waste will be stored is chosen.

One thing I definitely agree with Richard on is that decommissioning of the scrap subs is good news - and also that, at last, we have a prospect of moving to a position of global security where nuclear weapons are no longer needed.




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