THE Ministry of Defence has denied allegations by a nuclear watchdog that construction of AWE Aldermaston’s £600m new uranium store has been put on hold – with a £734m scheme at AWE Burghfield also facing delays.
Project Pegasus was designed to replace a 60-year-old store at the site but Reading-based, Nuclear Information Service (NIS), this week claimed the project had been delayed following a series of design problems, project management failures and regulatory setbacks.
NIS says it has obtained AWE documents under the Freedom of Information Act relating to the project at AWE Aldermaston, where the UK’s nuclear deterrent, Trident, is manufactured, which it says confirms AWE was reassessing delivery of the project and preparing a revised schedule.
As a result, NIS says former Armed Forces minister, Sir Nick Harvey, has called for the operational sustainability of the project – a two-storey, 18,490sq m building – to be clarified and has written to the National Audit Office raising concerns about the scrutiny of high-cost construction projects at AWE.
The campaign group argued that because of these difficulties, AWE was faced with the prospect of extending the life of an existing facility, built in the 1950s.
NIS spokesman Peter Burt said: “The A45 uranium facility at Aldermaston is now nearly 60 years old and, according to the business case for Project Pegasus, is ‘incapable of meeting future capability and regulatory requirements’, raising questions over safety.”
He added that costs were likely to increase due to the setbacks, with taxpayers forced to fund spending above the £634m approved by the treasury.
Project Mensa, a £734m scheme to build a new warhead assembly facility at AWE Burghfield, was also believed to be facing delays, according to NIS, due to changes to safety cases and deviations from the scheduled programme.
Mr Burt said: “The Mensa warhead facility was originally scheduled for completion by the end of 2015, but it seems unlikely that this target will be achieved.:
“AWE Management Ltd, the consortium which runs the site, is trousering huge profits from a billion pound a year contract while palpably failing to deliver on safety and infrastructure improvement programmes.”
An MoD spokesperson insisted that work on the Pegasus project was not on hold and said: “Both projects Mensa and Pegasus are part of the Nuclear Warhead Capability Sustainment Programme at AWE. All elements of this programme are routinely kept under close review to ensure they meet the MoD’s requirements.”