A top-secret £634 million project vital for renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system has been halted following design and management difficulties, according to the government's Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).
This could undermine the UK government’s entire plan to replace Trident, say critics. They are demanding investigations by the National Audit Office and by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The MoD insisted that work towards replacing Trident was continuing, though it was being kept “under close review”. Insiders, however, have claimed that key projects are faltering and could be cancelled.
Since 2013 the private consortium that runs the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) for the MoD has been building a plant, codenamed Pegasus, to make enriched uranium components for nuclear warheads and fuel for nuclear submarines based on the Clyde.
But in response to a freedom of information request, ONR has revealed that Pegasus - named after a fabled flying horse - has been grounded. “AWE has placed the Pegasus project on-hold and is currently re-assessing requirements for project delivery”, said ONR. A “revised scope and delivery schedule” was now awaited.
Internal documents released by ONR show that Pegasus had been “subject to a large number of changes from the start”. There had been problems with “senior management churn”, “poor engagement” and “email ping-pong” at AWE.
There had been a “reluctance of AWE staff to talk with ONR”, according to the minute of a special meeting to discuss delays in 2013. Safety reports needed to be “of better quality”, it said, and the regulatory process for Pegasus had started late and taken “longer than planned”.
ONR also expressed specific concern about one issue, though its description has been blacked out so it’s unclear what it was. “So much had to be taken on trust and any vagueness caused great difficulties with permissioning,” it said.