Our history

During 2020 AWE celebrated 70 years of service to our national safety and security. Details of our heritage and achievements have been included in an e-book. This online album contains some amazing archive footage and historical facts, plus our work with communities and the world of innovation. To find out more about AWE’s history, check out the e-book here:

  • 2021

    In May 2021 AWE were ranked number 21 in the  UK’s 25 Best Big Companies to Work For.

    On 30 June 2021 the AWE Management Limited contract for the management and operations of AWE plc was terminated.  AWE plc became an arm’s length non-departmental public body, wholly owned by the Ministry of Defence, on 1 July 2021.

  • 2010

    AWE celebrates 60 years of service to the nation, playing a vital role in the defence of the realm.

    Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) sets out Trident life and UK stockpile requirements to maintaining a credible, continuous and effective minimum UK nuclear deterrent.

    The Anglo-French Treaty is signed by UK and French Governments, setting out a programme of defence cooperation between the two nations. The Treaty provides for collaboration through shared hydrodynamics facilities: one at AWE Aldermaston, the other in Valduc, France.

  • 2020

    Like millions of organisations, the COVID 19 pandemic saw a total change to the way we worked at AWE. Despite all of the challenges throughout 2020, operations were maintained throughout the year.

  • 2019

    AWE was named as one of the top Best Big Companies to work for at the Sunday Times Best Companies Awards 2019.

  • 2018

    Engineer Jim West awarded an MBE for services to nuclear safety

    Scientist Giles Graham awarded an OBE for services to national security and counter-terrorism

    Presented with the Corporate Champion plaque by the Science Council to professionally recognise our technicians

    AWE commissioned a new supercomputer, Damson, capable of performing 4.3 million billion calculations per second

    In August, the Mensa team achieved 2 million hours without a RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases or Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) incident since November 2016

  • 2017

    AWE recognised as a top 100 apprenticeship employer

    AWE exhibited at the prestigious Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

    AWE team supports Exercise Letterpress, a collaboration between UK, Sweden, Norway and the US, to support national security

  • 2016

    Scientist Brian Lambourn awarded an MBE for services to the UK nuclear deterrent programme

    Samantha McRae wins Maintenance Apprentice of the Year at the UK Nuclear Skills Awards

    AWE celebrates 10 years accreditation with the Royal Society of Chemistry

    AWE wins south-east Large Employer category in the regional rounds of the prestigious National Apprenticeship Awards 2016

    9001- ISO 9001 accreditation

  • 2015

    Orion fires landmark 1000th target shot

    AWE named 2015 West Berkshire Employer of the Year

    The National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 (SDSR) sets out the Government’s approach to national security

  • 2014

    His Royal Highness The Duke of York visits the Orion laser facility in his capacity as patron for the International Year of Light

    University partners take part in first academic experiments at the Orion laser facility

    AWE becomes one of the first to pledge continued support for young people in industry by signing up to the 5% Club

    AWE exhibits ‘Set the controls for the heart of the Sun’ at The Royal Society’s annual Summer Science Exhibition

  • 2013

    The Orion laser facility becomes fully operational.

    Professor Peter Roberts, chief scientist, receives OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

  • 2012

    Construction work begins on the Technology Development Centre (TDC) to support the collaborative hydrodynamics work set out in the Anglo-French Treaty.

    AWE provides Nuclear Security support to the Olympics in London.

    Sponsored by the Home Office and the MOD, a new state-of-the art nuclear forensics laboratory opens, supporting national nuclear security.

    Contract awarded to the ABL Alliance to manage the strategic weapons services at the Royal Naval Armament Depot, Coulport.

  • 2011

    Leo, the replacement component manufacturing and research facility at Burghfield fully operational.

    David Newton, chief engineer, awarded an MBE in Queen’s Birthday Honours.

  • 2011

    The ABL alliance, led by AWE and including Babcock International and Lockheed Martin UK, named as preferred bidder to deliver strategic weapons systems activities at Coulport.

    Building work begins on Pegasus, the replacement materials processing facility at Aldermaston and also on Phoenix, the replacement conventional manufacturing facility at Burghfield.

  • 2010

    Orion Laser facility construction completed and first target shots fired from the laser.

    Willow and Blackthorn super computers give AWE 215 Teraflops of processing capability with upgrade to 450 teraflops in 2012.

    AWE suffered a fire in the explosives manufacturing area of the Aldermaston site. This led to prosecution by the HSE in 2013.

  • 2009

    Shareholder change from BNFL to Jacobs.

    AWE Apprentice Academy in top 2% of adult learning providers in the UK and awarded Ofsted Grade 1 status.

  • 2007

    UK Parliament endorses commitment to maintain minimal deterrent beyond life of existing system.

    Building work is nearing completion of the replacement laser facility, Orion. The new accommodation buildings, known as Gemini, are also underway.

  • 2006

    Government White Paper on ‘The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent’ setting out the intention to maintain the UK nuclear deterrent by procuring a new generation of ballistic missile-carrying submarines and by extending the life of the Trident D5 missile.

    Award for Best Large Employer of apprentices by Learning Skills Council and ranked 24th in a review of ‘Britain’s Top 100 Employers’.

  • 2005

    The Secretary of State for Defence announced the programme of investment in new buildings, facilities and employees to ensure the existing Trident warhead can be maintained throughout its intended in-service life.

  • 2004

    Prince Andrew visits AWE to celebrate 25th anniversary of Helen laser facility.

    Work begins with the MOD on plans for a revolutionary long and short pulse replacement laser facility.

    AWE’s Radionuclide Laboratory became only the fifth laboratory in the world to be certified by the CTBT Organisation in Vienna.

    Recognised by RoSPA for the fourth consecutive year. ISO 9001:2000 accreditation for quality management and BS 7799 for information security.

  • 2003

    AWE’s training scheme granted accreditation by the Royal Society of Chemistry and was re-accredited by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

    Peter Marshall OBE of AWE Blacknest appointed a Companion to the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List. David Youngs of the design physics department was awarded the MBE.

  • 2001

    Support for weapons convoys moved from the RAF to AWE.

    AWE achieves ISO 14001 for environmental management standards of excellence.

  • 2000

    AWE Management Limited sign a single 25 year contract for the management and operations of AWE plc.

    50th Anniversary of opening of AWRE Aldermaston.

  • 2000

    Planning permission received for a replacement high explosives fabrication facility at Aldermaston and for a conventional manufacturing facility at Burghfield. Approval also received for the construction of a replacement warhead assembly and disassembly facility at Burghfield.

  • 1999

    British Government announces AWE Management Limited (BNFL, Lockheed Martin and Serco) to take over running AWE.

    AWE transports first shipment of weapons grade plutonium to storage under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

  • 1998

    WE177 withdrawn from service Trident warhead enters full service.

    Plutonium facility at Aldermaston fully operational.

    New explosives analysis facility opened at Aldermaston.

    Creation of William Penney fellowships.

    UK ratifies the CTBT.

  • 1997

    Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (now known as the Office for Nuclear Regulation) grants site licences for Aldermaston and Burghfield.

    AWE Cardiff closes and AWE withdraws from Foulness.

    AWE scientists participate in CTBT Preparatory Commission

  • 1996

    Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty signed by UK, US and 90 non-nuclear states.

    Chevaline withdrawn from service.

  • 1994

    First Trident submarine – HMS Vanguard – enters service.

    UK Government announces intention to licence AWE under the Nuclear Installations Act

    CTBT negotiations begin in Geneva. AWE provides advice on verification and on-site inspection

  • 1993

    Hunting Brae Ltd awarded Phase 2 of management contract.

    AWE receives ISO9001 quality accreditation.

    First meeting of Aldermaston and Burghfield Local Liaison Committee

  • 1991

    UK’s final underground test, Bristol, takes place at the Nevada test site.

    Lord William Penney dies.

    AWE Bill receives Royal Assent, paving way for full contractorisation.

  • 1990

    Hunting- BRAE Ltd awarded phase 1 management contract for AWE.

  • 1989

    UK government announces that AWE is to be “contractorised”.

  • 1987

    AWRE becomes the Atomic Weapons Establishment. ROF Burghfield and ROF Cardiff come under AWE management.

  • 1982

    First submarine patrol with Chevaline upgrade. Polaris Sales Agreement updated to provide the Trident missile system to the UK

  • 1980

    First Chevaline warheads enter the stockpile. UK Government announces that Trident will replace Chevaline.

    Whole body monitor opened by Sir E. Pochin

  • 1979

    AWRE Helen Laser facility opened by HM the Queen.

    First CRAY supercomputer installed.

  • 1978

    UK Government authorises work to begin on Polaris replacement.

    Pochin report recommends improved radiation protection standards which are now used in Europe and in many other parts of the world.

  • 1977

    AWRE provides technical advice on detection of underground tests in US, UK and USSR trilateral negotiations.

  • 1976

    AWRE participates in UN Conference on disarmament (continues to 1994)

  • 1974

    Fallon Test takes place – first joint UK/US testing after a nine year break.

  • 1973

    UK starts Chevaline programme.

    AWRE transferred to the Ministry of Defence.

  • 1970

    Nuclear Proliferation Treaty entered into force. A total of 190 states have now joined the Treaty.

    Blue Steel withdrawn from service. Red Beard and Yellow Sun Mk2 withdrawn from service two years later

  • 1968

    First UK Polaris submarine HMS Resolution operational Underground testing marks a new era

    Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty opened for signature. The Treaty aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology. The UK, along with the US and the Russian Federation, was one of the first nations to sign the Treaty.

  • 1966

    WE177B free fall bomb goes into service

  • 1965

    Moratorium on underground nuclear test imposed

    Science & Technology Act allows AWRE to diversify.

  • 1963

    Partial Test Ban Treaty ends atmospheric testing. UK participates in a programme to monitor compliance with the Partial Test Ban Treaty.

    Polaris Sales Agreement between the UK and the US for the Polaris missile system to be provided to the UK to maintain its independent nuclear deterrent.

  • 1962

    UK begins underground testing at Nevada test site. Nassau Agreement allows UK to purchase Polaris system from the US.

  • 1961

    Yellow Sun MK2 goes into service

    Blacknest was incorporated into AWRE providing seismological data and assessments to UK Government for research and development, . This is a cornerstone of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The scientists based at Blacknest make important contributions in developing verifications techniques and supporting nuclear non-proliferation and arms controls treaties.

  • 1960

    Red Beard enters service.

    ROF Cardiff starts work on nuclear warhead programme. Purpose built warhead assembly facilities completed at ROF Burghfield.

  • 1958

    UK carries out last atmospheric test, Grapple Z, at Christmas Island.

    A moratorium on atmospheric nuclear weapons testing between UK, US and USSR announced.

    AWRE scientists participate in the first Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations in Geneva

    Violet Club missile enters service and is withdrawn the following year.

    UK/US Mutual Defence Agreement nuclear co-operation agreed.

  • 1957

    The fissile material processing building at AWRE becomes operational.

  • 1956

    RAF V-class bombers enter service in UK. The Vulcan and Victor were armed with British built bombs: Red Beard, Violet Club and Yellow Sun.

  • 1955

    UK decision to develop hydrogen bomb announced.

    First computer – Ferranti Mk 1* – installed at Aldermaston.

  • 1954

    Ministry of Supply transfers responsibility of all atomic matters to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Agency (UKAEA), which AWRE Aldermaston becomes part of on 1st January 1955.

    ROF Burghfield enters nuclear weapons programme.

    AWRE takes over Foulness and Orford Ness.

  • 1953

    First British prototype, Blue Danube is delivered to the RAF.

    Totem nuclear tests takes place in EMU Fields, Australia.

    Dr William Penny is appointed director of AWRE

  • 1952

    Aldermaston site is officially named Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE).

    The first UK nuclear device successfully detonated. Known as Operation Hurricane, this test was led by Dr. Penney.

    Dr. William Penney awarded a knighthood.

  • 1950

    RAF Aldermaston, originally a wartime airfield in Berkshire becomes the site for the UK’s Atomic Programme. The first scientific staff arrive a year later

    Aldermaston Airfield 1945

  • 1947

    UK Cabinet Committee, under Prime Minister Clement Attlee authorises the development of nuclear weapons. The High Explosives Research division, led by Dr William Penney, established at Fort Halstead, Kent. The team at Fort Halstead went on to develop Britain’s first atomic bomb.

  • 1946

    US Atomic Energy Act (McMahon Act) excludes all countries including UK from nuclear collaboration with the US. Chiefs of Staff report on UK’s atomic bomb requirements. William Penney appointed Chief Superintendent Armament Research.

  • 1945

    Close to the end of the Second World War, atomic bombs were used against Japan. This was the first and only time that nuclear weapons have been used in warfare.

  • 1943

    The Quebec Agreement between the UK and US is signed by Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt in Canada. The UK joins the US Manhattan Project.

    A secret laboratory opens in Los Alamos, New Mexico to support the work of the Manhattan Project. British scientists and engineers, including Otto Frisch, Rudolf Peierls and Dr William Penney, eventually join the team in the US.

  • 1941

    In March 1941 a report was produced by the MAUD Committee describing the importance of fast fission for bomb design. This was sent to the Uranium Committee in the USA.

  • 1940

    Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls, working at the University of Birmingham in the UK, considered the possibility of fast fission in uranium-235. Their memorandum was submitted to the Committee on the Scientific Survey of Air Defence.

    Fission had been discovered in Germany almost two years before and since the Spring of 1940 they had been conducting uranium research.