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UK to retake direct control of nuclear warheads site

The UK's AWE entity is in charge of maintaining the country's nuclear warheads. For many years, it has been managed by a consortium dominated by the US arms company Lockheed Martin. This is about to change.

The UK government will resume "direct control” of a state-owned nuclear weapons facility from late 2021, services giant Serco said on Monday.

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) facility at Aldermaston, 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of London, is responsible for maintaining the Trident nuclear warheads, designing new weapons, dismantling reduntant warheads and working towards arms limitation treaties.

Separately, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Monday AWE plc would become an "Arms-Length Body, wholly owned by the MoD" following an "in-depth review."

The authorities would remove the "current commercial arrangements" to enhance the "agility" of the UK's nuclear deterrent program, the ministry said.

Read more: Heiko Maas against unilateral removal of nuclear weapons from Germany

Reversing past privatization drive?

Since 2000, the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) has been run day-to-day by a three-way consortium, comprising Serco (24.5%), the US contractor Lockheed Martin (51%) and the US engineering services company Jacobs (24.5%).

Britain's ordnance privatization dates back to 1987 and a re-election win by conservative premier Margaret Thatcher, when AWE's predecessor entity was conceived, with London holding what it called a "golden share."

AWE, on its website, says it "maintains” Britain's nuclear stockpile under "high safety and security standards at all times."

In July 2015, AWE was served with an improvement notice by Britain's Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) for "failing to demonstrate that its long-term strategy for managing Higher Active radioactive Waste" stored in 1,000 drums would reduce future risks to the public and employees.

The ONR gave AWE until September 2016 to demonstrate compliance.

Near the main Aldermaston site, AWE also operates Blacknest to detect seismic signals generated by underground nuclear explosions "all over the world."

One of the UK's Trident nuclear submarines at HM Naval Base Clyd, Faslane in Scotland

One of the UK's Trident nuclear submarines at HM Naval Base Clyd, Faslane in Scotland

The UK is part of the trans-Atlantic military alliance NATO, led by the US. Britain's nuclear fleet is located at Faslane in western Scotland, where last month thousands of NATO personnel took part in a regular exercise called Joint Warrior.

ipj/dj (Reuters, AFP)

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