TWO-YEAR BLUEPRINT PUBLISHED FOR REMOVING TRIDENT FROM SCOTLAND
Scottish ministers have welcomed a practical guide, drawn up by the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (SCND), on how to dismantle the Trident nuclear weapons system and remove it from Scotland within two years of independence.
The blueprint, 'Disarming Trident', reports that Vanguard-class submarines armed with Trident missiles which are based on the Clyde could all be recalled to the Faslane naval base and have their warheads disarmed within a week. After eight days all the missiles could be disabled.
Within a year the total arsenal of around 220 nuclear warheads could be disabled at the Coulport weapons store, and by the end of two years they could be removed from Scotland by road and stored at a special munitions store in England, such as the facility at RAF Honington originally designed to hold free-fall nuclear bombs. Within four years the entire arsenal could be fully dismantled.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish National Party (SNP), who are committed to the “earliest possible withdrawal of Trident”, warmly endorsed the document, saying “the suggested timetable is a welcome indication of how quickly Trident could be removed once Scotland has the powers to decide its own defence and security policy”.
International experts on nuclear weapons have pronounced the plans credible. Bruce Blair, one of the world's leading experts on de-alerting nuclear forces, commented that the plan could actually be conservative and that “many of the steps could be taken at a pace that is nearly twice as fast, though the more leisurely pace in the SCND timetable ensures a completely safe process of dismantlement”.
Ministers at the Ministry of Defence are threatening that an independent Scotland would have to share the bill for decommissioning nuclear forces if the Scottish government insisted on removing them from Scotland.
Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey told the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee that Trident would be the single biggest issue of independence and that a 'huge negotiation' would be required on who would have to pay to dismantle Faslane. Scotland could allow the Faslane nuclear submarine base to stay under the control of the remainder of the UK if it did not want to share the multibillion-pound bill for decommissioning the nuclear submarine base.
Harvey argued that relocation of Trident from Scotland would 'be about the least favourite option possible' and described the costs of moving the base as 'absolutely immense'. The most recent upgrade of Faslane cost £3.5 billion alone and military experts estimate it would take 20 years and involve far greater sums to rebuild a base for the nuclear weapons.
Peter Luff, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support, and Technology, told the Committee that the standard of safety required at a new base for the nuclear arms would be 'enormous'. He said building a base would take much longer than conventional projects, noting that construction of just one jetty at the Clyde base had been 'a huge struggle'.
David Maddox, writing in the Scotsman, described Mr Harvey's suggestion that Faslane could remain sovereign territory for the rest of the UK as tantamount to creating 'a military enclave north of the Border, comparable with US-controlled Guantanamo Bay in the Caribbean.'
The SNP strongly opposes the position taken by London ministers, preferring to turn Faslane into a conventional naval base.
PRIVATE SECTOR ASSISTANCE CONSIDERED FOR TRIDENT REPLACMENT PROGRAMME
The Ministry of Defence is considering substantial changes to the next £15 billion phase of spending on the Trident nuclear submarine programme as part of cost saving plans, according to the 'Independent' newspaper.
Bernard Gray, Chief of Defence Materiel, has been charged with slashing procurement and maintenance costs and is considering bringing in a commercial partner to help the MoD with the Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme (SEPP). SEPP was created to ensure that industry, including key suppliers such as BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Babcock International, work with the MoD to 'secure sustainability', keep 'performance up' and deliver £900m of cost savings in the construction and maintenance of new submarines.
Mr Gray is reported to want to include a commercial partner in the programme with no existing contractual ties to keep planned savings on track. A MoD team led by Rear Admiral Simon Lister is said to have spoken to a number of private sector parties about the idea, and MoD are expected to announce the introduction of private sector expertise to management of several projects over coming months.
P5 TO DISCUSS NUCLEAR WEAPONS IN WASHINGTON
The Permanent Five (P5) members of the United States Security Council – the five nuclear weapon states recognised by the Non-Proliferation Treaty – will meet in Washington between 27 – 29 June 2012 to discuss nuclear transparency issues.
This will be the third such conference to take place, following similar events in London in September 2009 and in Paris in June – July 2011. The conference is expected to discuss confidence-building measures towards nuclear disarmament, disarmament verification, and progress made by P5 states in meeting their commitments under the action plan agreed at the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
The US State Department, which is hosting the event, is also organising a 'public event' alongside the Washington meeting, which is intended to provide an opportunity for dialogue from a non-governmental perspective. A communique summarising progress made at the conference is expected to be issued following the meeting.
CONTROVERSY OVER US NUCLEAR REGULATOR'S POST-FUKUSHIMA EMERGENCY PLANNING REVIEW
A US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) review of lessons for the US nuclear power industry in the aftermath of the Fukushima crisis will not consider the expansion of emergency planning zones around US reactors, an agency official has announced. Kevin Williams, NRC Branch Chief for the NRC's Division of Preparedness, stated that the issue will be dealt with “outside of that process”.
Non-government organisations in the USA have called for an expansion of the emergency zones and improvements to emergency response planning around US nuclear reactors. A coalition of 38 groups is proposing that the current 10 mile emergency planning zone should be extended to include the area within a 25-mile radius of a reactor site. An emergency evacuation zone should be established within a 50-mile radius around a reactor site, and the radius of the zone within which countermeasures should be taken against the ingestion of radioactive materials should extend to a 100-mile radius.
During the Fukushima crisis the NRC advised that American citizens should evacuate to 50 miles from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. At the time, the Japanese government were only recommending evacuation out to 12 miles, although they later extended this to 18 miles, and as far as 31 miles in specific areas. NRC now claims that the 50-mile recommendation was based on partial information and was based on assumptions which turned out not to be correct.
NRC has stated that emergency preparedness is one of the areas being addressed as part of a holistic review as a result of the work of its Fukushima 'lessons learned' task force, and that there will be a re-evaluation of the basis for defining emergency planning zones and the distribution of potassium iodide tablets to the public.
Acting on behalf of Nuclear Information Service, independent consultants Large & Associates have reviewed arrangements for defining emergency planning zones around Atomic Weapons Establishment sites in the UK and concluded that they should be reviewed in the light of the Fukushima emergency.
UK FISSILE MATERIAL HOLDINGS REPORTED
The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has published figures for the UK's annual holdings of fissile materials for the year 2011. The figures have been reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
At 31 December 2011 the UK held a total of 118.2 tonnes of civil unirradiated plutonium, up from 114.8 tonnes the previous year. The majority of this (113.3 tonnes) was in the form of unirradiated separated plutonium in product stores at reprocessing plants. A further 32 tonnes of plutonium were held in the form of spent civil reactor fuel.
The UK's stocks of civil high enriched uranium remained constant at 1,400 kilogrammes.
Military stockpiles of fissile material are held separately from civil stocks and are not reported by the government.
AWE BREACHES IONISING RADIATIONS REGULATIONS
The Office for Nuclear Regulation has written an enforcement letter to the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) following a breach of the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 at AWE sites. The breach resulted from a failure to issue outside workers at AWE sites with passbooks for recording radiation doses.
ONR concluded that, because AWE brought the matter to their attention and because individuals involved had been adequately monitored with suitable records kept, no further regulatory action was required beyond sending the letter.
ONR has now issued an exemption to the regulations to bring AWE back into compliance.
NEW WATER TANK PLANNED FOR AWE BURGHFIELD
MoD has submitted a planning application to West Berkshire Council for construction of a new water storage tank at AWE Burghfield. The proposed new tank will replace an existing reservoir which is used to supply potable water and firewater at the Burghfield site.