Exposed: £8m a year university research ties to UK’s secretive nuclear weapons body

• Imperial College receives the most funding from the Atomic Weapons Establishment

The body which designs and manufactures the UK’s nuclear weapons is pumping a total of £8m in research funding a year into over fifty British universities, a new report reveals.

UK universities receive millions in funding from the Atomic Weapons Establishment, who design and manufacture Trident missiles. Photograph: MoD

UK universities receive millions in funding from the Atomic Weapons Establishment, who design and manufacture Trident missiles. Photograph: MoD

London’s Imperial College is the university allocated the most funding by the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), receiving over £7.7m between 2010 and June 2012, according to the findings published jointly by the Nuclear Information Service (NIS) and global health charity Medact.

Imperial is one of five British universities engaged in a ‘strategic alliance’ with the AWE, a secretive private consortium responsible for maintaining the warheads for the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system.

AWE supports two research centers at Imperial: the Institute of Shock Physics (ISP) and the Centre for Inertial Fusion Studies.

The report claims that in the ISP’s research into wave propagation and flow and optical examination of shock processes “dual use issues might arise” – meaning it could have “military purposes contributing to the development of weapons of mass destruction” in addition to “benign, peaceful purposes”.

The report found that six other London universities, including University College London (UCL) and King’s College London, received AWE funding during the period.

Pete Wilkinson, director of the NIS, warned universities “of the risks from being seduced into murky waters by the lure of the Atomic Weapons Establishment’s cash”.

He said: “While some of the research work funded by the AWE in British universities provides benefits to society and is welcome, work which will allow the UK to retain and develop its nuclear weapons over the long term has no place on the campus.”

According to the report, “many aspects of AWE’s scientific research are conducted in sensitive and controversial areas, raising complex ethical and legal issues.”

The investigation concluded that “AWE’s academic collaboration helps increase AWE’s reputability, allows AWE to draw on expertise from universities to support its work” and “provides a pool of potential recruits for staff posts at AWE”.
It proposes a series of ethical guidelines to remedy “the need for increased transparency” and “a weak framework for considering ethical implications”.

The report, entitled ‘Atoms for Peace? The Atomic Weapons Establishment and UK Universities’, was launched last Wednesday at UCL. It gathered data using the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with “key informants” at universities.

An Imperial spokesperson said: “The majority of funding is used to grow and develop work in shock physics and plasma physics, and is strongly ‘blue skies’ in nature.”

“In line with the college’s policy, no AWE-funded research undertaken at Imperial is classified, and its high quality scientific outputs are routinely published in academic literature across a range of fields.”

“AWE-funded research at Imperial leads to understanding and applications that contribute significantly to the public good, including a better understanding of earthquakes, extreme weather events and the damage caused to people by explosions and blasts.”

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