ATOMIC weapons chiefs want to build a new facility for the handling and storage of enriched uranium at Aldermaston.

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) has submitted plans for an 18,489 square metre building to West Berkshire Council.

The application, dubbed Project Pegasus, is for a two-storey building close to the centre of the AWE Aldermaston site to replace existing facilities, which are spread between several ageing buildings that were constructed in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

These buildings will subsequently be decommissioned and knocked down.

The application has been submitted with a Defence Exempt Environmental Appraisal (DEEA), which addresses environmental issues of the proposal.

Andrew Jupp, infrastructure director at AWE – which manufactures and maintains warheads for the UK’s nuclear deterrent on behalf of the Ministry of Defence – said: “Project Pegasus will provide suitable workspace in a secure environment to support continued operations when existing facilities reach the end of their operational lives.”

Anti-nuclear pressure group the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), has branded the project a waste of money which, they claim, sends out a signal that the UK intends to develop a new generation of warheads.

Peter Burt, NIS director, said the facility is: “a white elephant legacy of the Bush and Blair years which is no longer needed to support the UK’s nuclear weapons programme.

“AWE could do the same job at a fraction of the cost by refurbishing existing facilities, without wasting half a billion pounds of taxpayers money on an expensive new pet project for its scientists.”

On Tuesday, campaigners visited West Berkshire Council offices with a large “IOU” sign for £500million to emphasise their objections.

In response to NIS claims, Rachel Whybrow, spokeswoman for AWE, said: “The proposed Pegasus facility constitutes essential improvements and forms part of published investment plans.

“It is not possible to disclose costings as this may harm commercial interests in advance of contracts being awarded. Ensuring value for money will remain a top priority.”