Catalogue of failings' puts construction of nuclear bomb facility on hold

By agency reporter
March 9, 2015

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has criticised the spiralling costs and ‘catastrophic’ errors during construction of the Ministry of Defence’s flagship nuclear weapons facility at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE).

Project Pegasus, a £634 million project which will manufacture enriched uranium components for the UK’s nuclear warheads, is ‘in limbo’ after a catalogue of failings in the planning and construction stages.

Despite a vote on Trident replacement not being due until 2016, spending at the AWE site has risen to around £1 billion a year to ensure the UK can make nuclear bombs well into the middle of this century. But, says CND, this huge expenditure has not stopped a litany of errors in planning, management and construction of new nuclear facilities which has left the Office for Nuclear Regulation demanding answers.

A Freedom of Information request by the Nuclear Information Service, reported in the Sunday Herald yesteray (8 MArch 2015), has uncovered that the futures of Project Pegasus (£634 million) and Project Mensa (a warhead assembly/disassembly facility costing upwards of £734 million) are both in doubt after suffering from "poor planning at the outset, with unachievable budgets and delivery schedules."

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said: "The sheer incompetence at AWE that has been revealed today is staggering. Project Pegasus has clearly been plagued from the start by an abject failure to budget, plan and manage such a huge and dangerous undertaking effectively, and it’s shocking that it has taken this long for these issues to come to light.

"It defies belief that the government is willing to pour seemingly endless amounts of money into nuclear weapons – not only to build new facilities, but now to cover for the failure of these catastrophic projects by carrying out an expensive renovation of the ageing current facilities – while telling the British people that the public purse is empty.

"Worse still: the original argument for constructing Pegasus was that the previous facility was 'incapable of meeting future capability and regulatory requirements'. This is a grave concern on both financial and safety grounds.

"The degree of corner-cutting, incompetence and chaos revealed today is far from new to the UK’s nuclear weapons industry – but it is an unacceptable risk to public safety and an intolerable waste of taxpayers’ money."

Peter Burt of Nuclear Information Service said: "Vast sums of money are being spent at the Atomic Weapons Establishment with virtually no supervision or oversight by government departments.

"AWE Management Ltd, the consortium which runs the site, is trousering huge profits from a £1 billion pound a year contract while palpably failing to deliver on safety and infrastructure improvement programmes.

"Having promised the world when they took on the job, the company is now running rings round the Ministry of Defence and safety regulators, who are powerless to bring about improvements in standards.

"All the evidence shows that AWE Management Ltd are struggling to meet the terms of their contract. It's time for the Ministry of Defence to review its deal with AWE, fine the company for its poor performance, and if necessary suspend the contract and bring in a more competent management team."

* CND http://www.cnduk.org/home

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