NIS Update: April 2012


A report by Professor Malcolm Chalmers, defence policy director of the influential Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), has questioned whether an independent Scotland could remove Trident nuclear weapons from their base on the Clyde and remain in NATO.

The report, commissioned by the 'Scotland on Sunday' newspaper, contends that NATO is a 'nuclear alliance' with its Strategic Concept founded upon the 'supreme guarantee' that the security of the allies 'is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance'.  It would therefore be 'hard to square' Scotland continuing as a NATO member with expulsion of the UK's Trident nuclear force from its Faslane and Coulport bases.

The report is published as the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) prepares to debate  whether to retain its long standing policy of opposition to NATO membership at its party conference in June.

Chalmers acknowledges that opposition within Scotland to Trident being based in the country is 'widespread' but claims that wider political pressures may force the SNP to consider whether, if they gained independence, they would immediately seek the removal of Trident and whether they should maintain their long-standing opposition to NATO membership.

In response, the SNP has said its long-standing policy is for Scotland to be a member of the Partnership for Peace – like Sweden, Austria, Finland and Ireland – which provides for defence co-operation between NATO and non-NATO countries.

The report argues that if Scotland demands Trident's 'rapid removal,' it would damage relations with the UK. This, Chalmers counsels, is an inadvisable course of action given that Scotland should 'start off its transition to independence in good standing with its neighbours.'

One of the main reasons Scotland would need to maintain a strong relationship with the UK post-independence, according to the report, concerns the budgetary pressure its armed forces would be under.  The costs of setting up a new Scottish Ministry of Defence would be one factor, and equipment costs would be another.  The report claims that an independent Scotland would struggle to fly combat aircraft, could not afford new frigates and submarines and would see defence contracts move to England.

Chalmers states that a decision to leave NATO would risk a 'hostile' reaction from the US and result in neighbouring NATO countries becoming wary of Scottish attempts to 'free-ride' on their security protection.  However, the report stresses that an independent Scotland would have a number of defence and security options, including taking a similar position to   Iceland – a NATO member which has decided to forego having armed forces – or Ireland and Sweden, which have not joined NATO to preserve their historical neutrality.


Ministry of Defence plans to cut 1,800 staff from the Ministry of Defence Police and Guarding Agency (MDPGA) have raised questions about security protection at nuclear installations.

Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare, and Veterans Andrew Robathan has informed Parliament of plans to reduce numbers of Ministry of Defence police staff from just under 3,100 officers to around 2,400 by April 2016, while the Ministry of Defence Guard Service would drop from about 3,300 to 2,200 personnel by April 2015.  MDPGA staff play a front-line role in providing security at the UK's military nuclear installations, including the Atomic Weapons Establishment and the Clyde  Submarine Base.

Robathan argued that the reductions had become necessary because of 'new security requirements' and that while savings will be made, 'effective security arrangements will be maintained at all defence sites.'  The reductions would leave some installations with a smaller number of security officers and security activities provided by guards without police authority.  Civil police forces would be expected to provide support to police at military facilities.

Eamon Keating, Chairman of the Defence Police Federation, which represents MoD police officers, said that Ministers were “happy to put the bottom line ahead of security” and that the  decision would put the security of key establishments in the hands of security providers who lack the training, investigative powers and constabulary authority of Ministry of Defence police officers.

The Ministry of Defence and the Department of Energy and Climate Change recently launched a 'scoping study' into proposals to merge the Ministry of Defence Police with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, which is responsible for guarding civil nuclear sites.


The Foreign Office has hosted a meeting for scientific and technological specialists from the Permanent Five members of the United Nations Security Council (P5) to present outcomes and lessons learnt from the UK-Norway Initiative – a joint research programme between the two nations on how to verify that nuclear weapons have been dismantled.

Experts from China, France, Russia, and the United States joined researchers from the Atomic Weapons Establishment, the Ministry of Defence, and Norwegian institutes involved in the project at the London conference at the beginning of April to give their perspectives on the Initiative.  The meeting was one of the outcomes agreed at a conference between the P5 which took place in Paris in June 2011 to discuss nuclear transparency issues and nuclear disarmament obligations under the Non Proliferation Treaty.

The UK – Norway Initiative commenced in 2007 to investigate ‘technical and procedural challenges associated with a possible future nuclear disarmament verification regime,’ with its research based on the requirement of any future disarmament process to be ‘underpinned by an internationally trusted regime that can demonstrate with confidence that nuclear warheads have been dismantled without revealing proliferative information’.

British and Norwegian participants in the Initiative will present results from their research to  a wider audience at the Non Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee meeting which commences in Vienna later this month.


The Norwegian government has announced that it will host an international conference on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons next year.

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, that "a conference in Oslo to highlight different aspects of nuclear weapons as a humanitarian problem" would take place in the spring of 2013.

The Norwegian government has taken a progressive stance on nuclear weapons, declaring in 1987 that nuclear weapons would not be stored in or deployed on its soil, despite Norway's membership of NATO.  More recently Norwegian researchers have co-operated with scientists from the UK on the UK-Norway Initiative on disarmament verification.

The announcement has been welcomed by the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, which has said that the conference should lead to a clear roadmap for new humanitarian and legal standards on nuclear weapons, and has called on Norway and other participating governments to use the meeting as a stepping stone towards negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.


The Ministry of Defence has published an interim report on feedback from its recent consultation programme on dismantling of the UK's redundant nuclear submarines.

The report includes key statistics on consultation events and comments given in feedback from the events.  Comments made by participants in workshops and in written contributions  to the consultation programme will be reported in a subsequent post-consultation report.



West Berkshire Council has published the post-exercise report for the 'Aldex 2010' exercise of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Off Site Emergency Plan, and has published a revised version of the plan drawing on lessons learnt during the exercise.

Aldex 2010 took place in November 2010 with the aim of testing command and control arrangements detailed in the AWE Off Site Plan.  Over 250 personnel from  23 agencies took part in the exercise, which included AWE, the Ministry of Defence, West Berkshire Council and other local authorities, Thames Valley Police, and emergency services.  A top level 'gold' control centre was set up at the Thames Valley Police headquarters at Kidlington and other agencies set up their own operational centres and ran concurrent exercises for their own staff.  No field tests of the emergency arrangements took place, although a mock media briefing was held with media students playing the part of journalists.

The exercise scenario dealt with a fire in a radioactive materials handling facility at AWE Aldermaston involving a number of pressurised gas cylinders, which resulted in a breach of the facility containment and an external release of radioactive material.  With a strong north-easterly wind, households in the western part of Tadley town and rural areas to the west of AWE Aldermaston were advised to shelter to avoid contamination.  

The post-exercise report concluded that Aldex 2010 achieved its purposes, and lessons were learnt from a number of difficulties encountered during the exercise, including:


  • Non-participation by the Food Standards Agency, which would have an important role in advising on radioactive contamination of agricultural produce and food following an emergency.


  • Failure to include Hampshire National Health Service in plans for setting up radiation monitoring units to establish whether members of the public have been subject to radioactive contamination.
  • A need for a future test of the emergency call-out cascade and further work on post-emergency recovery arrangements.  It was recommended that a separate recovery exercise should take place.
  • Slow communications and difficulties in decision making, with a range of different communication systems in use by different organisations, requiring a future review of communication methods and information management arrangements.
  • Confusion in providing scientific monitoring information to the central cell of scientific advisors.  AWE staff were instead asked for information by several agencies,  resulting in different understandings of the same data.

Following the exercise the Atomic Weapon Establishment Off Site Emergency Plan has been updated and a new version published.  The scope of the plan has been extended to cover non-radiation emergencies which may have an impact beyond the site boundary, such as the August 2010 fire at Aldermaston.

Exercise Aldex 2010 was monitored independently by Nuclear Information Service, and our report on conduct of the exercise was published in May 2011.  Our monitoring report highlighted the need for a 'live' exercise in the light of experience from the Fukushima nuclear crisis.


Shares in engineering firm Redhall Group have slumped by 21% after the company issued a profits warning following problems in production of blast-proof doors for Project Mensa, the new warhead assembly / disassembly facility currently under construction at AWE Burghfield.

Redhall was awarded the £20 million four-year contract to design, manufacture and install the ten-tonne doors and frames for Mensa in February 2011.

According to AWE the delays will not affect the opening date for Project Mensa, as production risks have been factored into the project timetable, although it is not clear whether they will affect the final cost of the scheme.

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