Sorry for the light blogging of late. I got a chuckle out of this story:
US firms now control UK’s nuclear weapons plant
LONDON (AP) — Britain’s government said Friday that a state-owned nuclear group has sold its stake in the company that manages the U.K.‘s atomic weapons research center, bringing the facility under the control of U.S. companies.
British Nuclear Fuels PLC has sold a one-third share in Britain’s AWE Management Ltd. to Jacobs Engineering Group Inc, based in Pasadena, California. AWE Management has a contract to operate the government-owned Atomic Weapons Establishment, which has facilities in Aldermaston and Burghfield in southern England, through 2025.
The sale means that operations at the center, which makes and maintains warheads for Britain’s nuclear missiles, is now under the control of U.S. companies.
I think it comes as a shock to most people on either side of the Atlantic when they learn how much the UK depends on the United States for its nuclear deterrent. Even I was a little taken aback during my visit to Aldermaston when Don Cook, the Managing Director of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, began to address us in his flat American accent.
I thought “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Couldn’t they have found someone British?”
After a couple of days at the AWE, and a tour of the lovely historical collection, I accepted the reality that, no, the United Kingdom does not in any way, shape, or form have an independent nuclear deterrent.
I mean no disrespect to all the people at Aldemaston who endure the nightmarish hell of living in and around Basingstoke to keep their country safe from … well, anyway. And I understand the need for the polite fiction given political debates in the United Kingdom, but the UK suffers when US policymakers buy into London’s public relations strategy.
The fact that stunned me was the model, in the historical collection, of Red Snow — the UK’s first deployed thermonuclear weapon. (Forget Green Grass)
Red Snow is an “Anglicized” version of the US Mk-28. (Anglicized is the nice way of saying “copied”.) The first thing you observe about the the bomb is that compact little thermonuclear device is packaged into a GINORMOUS bomb casing.
The problem, we were told in the historical talk, was the UK was unable to manufacture the Mk28 to the original specifications.
One implication was that the bomb was too large for the US casing and had to be placed in reused Yellow Sun bomb casings. Another was that the designers had little confidence in the warhead without nuclear testing — which was a problem since the warhead was deployed during the 1958-1961 test moratorium. (I suspect it was eventually tested )
I was able to track down the first story, but not the second — until I noticed that AWE posted it on their website!
The British decided to produce a megaton yield American warhead design under the code-name ‘Red Snow’. The equivalent British device needed more development and more nuclear tests – not possible because of an agreed pause in testing by the three nuclear powers.
However, certain aspects of the American design did not meet the British Ordnance Board Requirements. Modifications were embodied and trials carried out in Australia. The warhead would no longer fit the original American bomb casing and a much larger and heavier British one had to be used.
Well, that’s honesty for you. (In their defense, I think they used a different high explosive.)
The UK has executed three designs since Red Snow — Anglicized variants of the B61, the W59 and the W76.
British Nuclear Weapons
|British Desig.||Delivery||US Desig.||In service|
|Red Snow||Yellow Sun Mk.2, Blue Steel||Mk28||1961-1966|
|ET.317||Polaris SLBM (Chevaline)||W59||1982-1996|
Author estimates. I could be wrong.
Presumably AWE does not make FOGBANK, SEA BREEZE or other speciality materials in the W76 — which basically means that UK decision-making about life extension for the Trident warhead depends entirely on the W76-1 Life Extension Program and/or whether the US builds WR1.
They must have been crapping Scotch Eggs when we thought we might not be able to make FOGBANK.