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Thanks to Alan Turnbull, UK Secret Bases,

28th July 2006

UK Maps come in from the cold

The UK's official mapping agency, Ordnance Survey (, has finally returned the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Burghfield, at Reading near London, to its most popular Landranger series 1:50000 scale maps, after over 30 years in the secrecy wilderness. The plant had been "airbrushed" from maps since 1974 and just appeared as farmers' fields, but with a suspicious dead end road leading to the middle of the empty space. An update to the more specialist 1:25000 data was made available in January 2005, but this latest revision to the more widely used product marks a significant milestone and sets a useful precedent.

Of course, all this new openness has been prompted by the proliferation of public domain hi-res aerial photography (Getmapping, Google Earth, et al), but also a more sensible realistic post-Cold War policy by the UK Government's D-Notice Committee ( "If it can be seen from the air then it can be included on maps". The D-Notice office tells those military and government establishments throwing their arms up in protest: if they have anything really covert that must be kept from prying eyes, then it must be shoved into hangars or underground bunkers - just like always!

Maybe even my Secret Bases website helped push the discussion on a bit, after an initial outbreak of Media Hysteria!

Burghfield 1:50000 data:

Burghfield 1:25000 data:

Atomic Weapons Establishment:

AWE Aldermaston

Aerial View of AWE Aldermaston

AWE Aldermaston is the headquarters of AWE's operations. It covers approximately 750 acres near the village of Aldermaston in Berkshire. The site has long been associated with defence. Grim's Bank, an ancient monument partly located within the Aldermaston boundary, once formed part of the outer defences of the Roman town of Silchester and William the Conqueror is rumoured to have camped nearby after the Battle of Hastings. During World War II an airfield was built on the site, which was used by the United States Army Air Force for glider operations on D-day. Spitfire fighters were also assembled here. Today Aldermaston is the centre of design and research for AWE. It also provides sophisticated manufacturing facilities and produces a variety of components. AWE also administers AWE Blacknest, a former country house at nearby Brimpton, where seismological research is undertaken in support of the verification of nuclear test bans.

AWE Burghfield

Aerial View of AWE Burghfield

AWE Burghfield occupies a 225 acre site, seven miles east of Aldermaston. It was established during World War II to manufacture munitions. Later it was used as a storage depot for the Ministry of Supply until the early 1950's, when its facilities and proximity to Aldermaston made it an obvious choice to support the expanding nuclear weapons programme. Today, Burghfield is responsible for the final assembly of warheads, their in-service maintenance and their eventual decommissioning. As part of a rationalisation programme, AWE Cardiff, which provided component manufacturing support for the nuclear weapons programme since 1961, stopped production in February 1997. Its work was transferred to Aldermaston and Burghfield and the Cardiff site has been subsequently decommissioned.

What We Do

Since 1950 the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) has been central to the defence of the United Kingdom - providing and maintaining the warheads for the country's nuclear deterrent. We are proud of our role in helping to prevent global conflict for over half a century.

Uniquely among the nuclear powers, AWE covers the whole life-cycle of nuclear warheads, in a single organisation. This includes initial concept, research and design, through component manufacture and assembly, to in-service support and, finally, decommissioning and disposal.

The Government's Strategic Defence Review in 1998 emphasised the continuing importance of AWE to the nation. While highlighting the need for progress on arms control, it confirmed that the United Kingdom continues to require a credible and effective minimum nuclear deterrent.

It outlined AWE's tasks for the future:-

* To maintain the warheads for the Trident nuclear deterrent safely and reliably in service.

* To maintain a capability to design a new weapon, should it ever be required.

* To complete the dismantling and disposal of redundant warheads replaced by Trident.

* To develop the skills, technologies and techniques that could underpin future arms limitation treaties.

Trident, a submarine-launched ballistic nuclear weapons system, is currently the United Kingdom's sole nuclear deterrent in both the strategic and sub-strategic roles.

Our prime task over the next 20-30 years, therefore, will be to support the Trident system in service by maintaining its warhead stockpile. Following ratification by the United Kingdom of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, maintenance of the Trident warheads and the capability to produce a successor will have to be achieved without recourse to nuclear testing. This will pose a whole new range of scientific and engineering challenges.

To meet these challenges, AWE has been working to develop new methods of verifying the safety and reliability of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent through a science based programme.

In the meantime, work on disposing of the warheads from the systems replaced by Trident is well advanced. The WE177 nuclear bombs of the Royal Air Force have already been dismantled along with the majority of the Royal Navy's Polaris warheads.

Our new mission - to develop the techniques and technologies needed to underpin any future arms limitation treaties - was explained in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, which stated: "The effectiveness of arms control agreements depends heavily on verification. The United Kingdom has developed particular expertise in the monitoring of fissile materials and nuclear tests. We plan to add to this by developing capabilities which could be used to verify reductions in nuclear weapons, drawing on the expertise of the Atomic Weapons Establishment."

In fact, for many years, AWE has conducted seismic research to detect illicit nuclear tests and, following international agreement to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, AWE has also been selected as one of 16 radionuclide laboratories that will support a world-wide test ban monitoring regime.

Compare AWE to the vast US WMD nuclear weapons complex, the Pantex warhead facility below (Google provides images of lesser resolution of the US facilties than those of the UK):


UK WMD Atomic Weapons Establishment,+UK&ie=UTF8&ll=51.386352,-1.07048&spn=0.18426,0.543823&om=0,+UK&ie=UTF8&om=0&ll=51.386352,-1.07048&spn=0.18426,0.543823&t=k

AWE Burghfield,+UK&ie=UTF8&om=0&t=k&ll=51.40705,-1.021042&spn=0.011511,0.033989

Burghfield Warhead Assembly Complex

AWE Aldermaston,+Berkshire,+RG7,+UK&ie=UTF8&ll=51.369021,-1.139617&spn=0.023041,0.067978&t=k&om=0

AWE Aldermaston,+UK&ie=UTF8&om=0&t=k&ll=51.368264,-1.148012&spn=0.00144,0.004249

NNSA Pantex,tx&ie=UTF8&t=k&om=0&ll=35.324019,-101.568947&spn=0.060225,0.135956

NNSA Pantex Warhead Assembly Complex,tx&ie=UTF8&ll=35.310853,-101.56002&spn=0.015059,0.033989&t=k&om=0