Press Release- Government White Paper on Trident Replacement 04/12/06
The PM uses the term 'deterrence' and 'nuclear weapons' interchangeably, suggesting that they have the same meaning. But this is misleading. Nuclear ‘deterrence’ was a 1980’s doctrine that had many elements including survival exercises to ‘prove’ we could endure a nuclear war and bunkers for national and local authorities. But these plans have gone now and Kelvedon Hatch, the Seat of Government bunker in Essex for 600 Government personnel, is an heritage site you can visit for £6. It was these elements that gave deterrence conviction. Now the use of 'deterrence' merely kindles a fear that without nuclear weapons, we will be attacked in our beds. But the biggest risk we have from nuclear weapons in Britain, is from our own, trundling up and down motorways between Scotland and Aldermaston every very few weeks.
Nothing on risks of nuclear accident
The Prime Minister failed to address the cost of Trident in terms of safety risks, both of warhead transport and at Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston. A criticality alarm was sounded at 15.15 hours on Thursday, 6th April 2006 at AWE Aldermaston, leading to the immediate evacuation of one building and the site being placed under cover. Fortunately, it was found that a criticality had not occurred and there was consequently no risk to personnel, residents or the environment, according to AWE. Excessive vibration during maintenance activity had caused a nearby criticality detector head to trigger, causing the false alarm. In May, a fire occurred in a high voltage transformer forming part of the power supply apparatus for the HELEN Laser capacitor bank, which stores the electricity needed to generate laser pulses. The fire was extinguished within 20 minutes but an investigation is on-going into the cause of the fire.1
Nothing on AWE verification role
The concentration on new developments at AWE leaves its expertise in verification technologies wasted as a means to increase our security and reduce the nuclear threat internationally. Resources and the political will necessary for such practical multilateral disarmament projects are sadly missing from the White Paper. Instead, capacity building to design and build a new warhead at AWE is already well under way with the ‘Orion’ laser under construction and plans for offices for 1,500 new staff subject to a current planning application to the local authority.
The PM’s announcement of reduced warhead numbers reflects an increase in the numbers of warheads returned to AWE from the Scottish deployment base for dismantlement in 2006. Convoys with a total of 12 warheads are thought to have returned, with 9 taken up to Scotland as serviced or replacement warheads. Nukewatch considers there are around 180 warheads still in service2. If these are to be reduced rapidly to the announced 160, it could involve 20 being stored at RAF Honington in East Anglia to await dismantlement at AWE. This was the process for decommissioning Chevaline warheads in the 1990s.
Notes to Editors:
1. AWE Quarterly Assurance Report, June 2006
2. Nukewatch report: see www.nuclearinfo.org/nukewatch