Hansard on the proposed Enriched Uranium Facility and Hydrodynamics Facility at AWE Aldermaston

30 Mar 2009 : Column 887W

AWE Aldermaston

Nick Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Portsmouth South of 18 December 2008, Official Report, column 964W, on AWE Aldermaston, if he will place in the Library a copy of any Preliminary Safety Report prepared by the Directorate of Major Projects when it has been completed at AWE Aldermaston for the proposed Enriched Uranium Facility and Hydrodynamics Facility at AWE Aldermaston which has been provided to the Health and Safety Executive. [265156]

Mr. Quentin Davies: Neither of these documents currently exist. They will be assessed for placement in the Library of the House if and when they are produced.

30 Mar 2009 : Column 651


10. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): What his most recent estimate is of the cost of the replacement of the Trident nuclear warhead system. [267184]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Hutton): We published our initial estimate of the costs for the possible refurbishment or replacement of the warhead for our future nuclear deterrent capability in the December 2006 nuclear White Paper. This is in the range of £2 billion to £3 billion at 2006-07 prices. We have not yet made a decision to develop a new UK nuclear warhead. However, work is being undertaken to inform decisions, likely to be taken in the next Parliament, on whether and how we might need to refurbish or replace our current warhead.

30 Mar 2009 : Column 651

Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Secretary of State assure the House that there will be no expenditure on developing a new warhead without the specific approval of the House of Commons, and that he is satisfied that the development of a whole new warhead system is legal within the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which comes up for review in 2010?

Mr. Hutton: Yes, I believe that it certainly would be within the framework of the non-proliferation treaty. The NPT did not require unilateral disarmament on the part of the United Kingdom, and we are able to maintain very properly within the terms of the NPT our minimum nuclear deterrent; and, yes, I believe that there should be a vote in this House before such a decision was taken.

30 Mar 2009 : Column 651

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The opposition of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) to this policy is well known. The Secretary of State has made it very clear that renewing our current system is within the terms of the NPT, and that we are able to do that. He, like us, supports a multilateral disarmament approach. Can he give the House any idea about the time scales, not only for the development of the submarines, but about how well they are meshed in with the development of the warhead system?

Mr. Hutton: We have made it clear that we believe that the replacements for the Vanguard class submarines would be needed for 2024. An extensive time is needed to design, construct, build, test and operate the new submarines, which potentially will be very capable, and I think that that will take us up to 2024. As I said in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), a decision to renew the warhead will have to be taken by the House of Commons during the next Parliament. I believe that the programme that we set out in the 2006 White Paper is coherent and joined up.

30 Mar 2009 : Column 892W

Nuclear Submarines

Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many warheads have typically been deployed at sea on Trident submarine patrols since 1997. [266840]

Mr. Hutton: In the 1998 Strategic Defence Review we announced that we will have only one submarine on patrol at a time, carrying a reduced load of 48 warheads. Before the Strategic Defence Review, the announced ceiling was 96.

30 Mar 2009 : Column 892W

Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the typical duration of mid-life Trident submarine refits has been since 1997. [266841]

Mr. Hutton: Of the four Vanguard class submarines, two have already completed long overhaul periods (refuelling) (LOP(R)). The LOP(R) for HMS Vanguard started in February 2002 and was completed after three years and six months; the LOP(R) for HMS Victorious was started in January 2005 and was completed after three years and eight months.

30 Mar 2009 : Column 892W

Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the probable duration of major ballistic missile submarine refits when no mid-life refuelling of the reactor is required. [266842]

30 Mar 2009 : Column 892W

Mr. Hutton: All Vanguard class submarines have been, or will be, fitted with long life reactor cores that will last for the remainder of their operational life without the need for refuelling. These cores are being fitted as part of the submarines' long overhaul periods (refuelling) (LOP(R)s).

Vanguard class submarines with long life cores will subsequently undergo long overhaul periods (LOPs). Work is still under way to determine the composition of the work package for a LOP; it is therefore too early to-estimate their duration.

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Mr. Alan Reid: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he plans to take to ensure the compatibility of the new generation of Trident submarines with future generations of Trident missiles planned for entry into service in 2042; and if he will make a statement. [266848]

Mr. Hutton [holding answer 26 March 2009]: It is our intention that both the future UK and US submarines will share a common missile compartment within which the missiles will be carried. In the event that the US decides to develop a successor to the Trident D5 missile, there is no risk that it will be incompatible with this common compartment and hence with the future UK submarine.

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Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether the (a) missile launch tubes and (b) missile compartments in UK and US ballistic missile submarines have conformed to a common design since the adoption by the UK of a submarine-based nuclear deterrent. [267582]

Mr. Hutton: Since the adoption by the UK of a submarine-based nuclear deterrent, the UK has conformed to a common design for the missile launch tubes for both the Polaris and Trident systems. Missile compartments for both systems conform to US specifications necessary to incorporate the US-supplied weapon system. There are, however, agreed variations to reflect UK-specific requirements.

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Nuclear Weapons

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many UK personnel have visited the Nevada test site in each year since 2002; and what the (a) dates and (b) purposes were of each joint UK/US experiment undertaken at the Nevada test site since January 2002. [267151]

Mr. Quentin Davies: The total number of UK personnel visiting the Nevada test site under the auspices of the joint United Kingdom/United States Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) is provided in the following table.

2002 27

2003 62

2004 30

2005 89

2006 53

2007 58

2008 91

These figures include personnel making more than one visit in any given year.

Two specific sub-critical plutonium experiments were conducted in 2002 and 2006, the purpose of which was to gather scientific data essential for the maintenance and reliability of both US and UK nuclear weapons without having to conduct underground nuclear tests. The increased activity in 2005 coincides with preparations for the second of these experiments.

The increased activity in 2008 reflects a number of unrelated visits associated with stockpile maintenance activities and a specific classified project relating to nuclear counter-terrorism, details of which I am withholding in the interests of national security.

In addition to these visits, a number of other non-MDA related visits will have taken place. Statistics covering these visits are not centrally held and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

30 Mar 2009 : Column 648

Vanguard Class Nuclear Submarine Reactors

5. Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD)
What work is being carried out on Vanguard class nuclear submarine reactors at Devonport dockyard; and if he will make a statement. [267179]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Quentin Davies)
We announced on 2 March the award of a contract to Babcock Marine to complete the overhaul of HMS Vigilant. This is the third of four planned overhauls, following the completion of those for HMS Vanguard and HMS Victorious. The overhaul for HMS Vengeance will follow HMS Vigilant’s.

Mr. Breed: The question concerned reactors, and I heard nothing about reactors in that answer. The Minister will know that there was a fairly large public consultation on the storage of old reactors from the T-class submarines, but that did not include the Vanguard class. There is concern that that plant will also be stored in Devonport, which is wholly against the purpose of the public consultation. It was about the temporary storage of T-class submarine reactors. It did not include the storage of any Vanguard reactors, which will now, apparently, take place.

Mr. Davies: The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the current overhaul includes refuelling the reactor with a new core, core H, which will fuel her for the remainder of her operational life. On the storage of reactors, it has always been our policy to store reactors in situ, in this case in Devonport, until the ISOLUS—interim storage of laid up submarines—programme comes into force, under which we will put forward a new policy for dealing with the long-term future of these nuclear reactors. We will make an announcement on that subject next year, after the strategic environmental assessment, which will take place later this year.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): Can my hon. Friend confirm that the work referred to by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) has been accepted by the Environment Agency as in line with the licence that was granted when the work was extended to those submarines? Can he also confirm that the skilled work involved in the submarines is the anchor for ensuring that Plymouth will remain an important centre of naval engineering excellence in the future?

Mr. Davies: I can confirm my hon. Friend’s suppositions on both fronts. It is right that all the work we do on nuclear reactors in Devonport is under the regulation of the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and our own defence nuclear regulator, so she can be reassured about that. The future of Devonport is bright, and I cannot conceive of any scenario in which her assumptions would not be correct.

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