Oxford’s nuclear funding bombshell

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Oxford University has received over half a million pounds in funding from a nuclear weapons organisation over a two year period.

According to a report launched by the Nuclear Information Service and Medact yesterday, the Atomic Weapons Establishment gave the University £532,291 between 2010 and July 2012.

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) is responsible for the design, manufacture and support of warheads for the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent.

The organisation is a private consortium which runs two nuclear development facilities in Berkshire on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.

As well as providing funding for science research, AWE has been known to sponsor conferences held at Oxford, including the “Institute of Physics Plasma Physics Group Annual Conference”, held in April 2012.

A spokesperson for the university said “AWE-funded research at Oxford is strongly fundamental in nature. It addresses questions which are of general scientific interest and outcomes are published in the scientific literature.”

The organisation gives over £8 million a year to more than 50 universities, including Cambridge, Imperial College, Bristol, Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh and Cranfield.

The programme of funding from AWE, labelled “Technical Outreach” mainly supports scientific research in the physics, materials science, high performance computing, modelling, and manufacturing disciplines at universities throughout the country.

Academic staff from Oxford University have also taken part in exchange visits to US establishments over the last three years under the terms of the 1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement.

The Agreement enables the US and UK to exchange classified information to improve each country’s “atomic weapon design, development, and fabrication capability”.

The NIS paper, entitled “Atoms for Peace” points out that this allows for the possibility that university academics have participated in classified research alongside AWE colleagues.

NIS science policy researcher Chris Langley has argued that commercial involvement with universities in the UK has expanded significantly over the past 25 years, especially through the military sector.

As well as working with Oxford University, AWE’s programme extends to other research laboratories, including the National Physical Laboratory and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.