NIS Update: March 2012


Babcock International Group has been awarded a contract by the Ministry of Defence for a £350 million three-and-a-half year refit of the Trident submarine HMS Vengeance at the Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth.

HMS Vengeance is the fourth and last of the Vanguard class submarines to undergo a Long Overhaul Period and Refuel (LOP(R)) refit at Devonport since 2002.  The submarine entered the dockyard on 2 March for the refit to commence and is scheduled to remain there until 2015.  The Ministry of Defence intends that, upon re-entering service, Vengeance will remain afloat until the mid 2030s when its role will be taken over by one of the 'Successor' Trident replacement submarines currently under design.

During the refit Vengeance will be fitted with the latest 'Core H' nuclear reactor core, as used in the new Astute class submarines, and will be refuelled with fresh highly enriched uranium reactor fuel.  The submarine's equipment will be completely overhauled and upgraded computers, power converters, missile launch equipment and tactical weapon systems will be installed.

Shortly after Vengeance arrived at Devonport the third of the Vanguard class submarines, HMS Vigilant, left the dockyard after completion of a similar three year refit and refuelling programme.  Vigilant will now commence sea trials and set sail for the United States to embark a complement of Trident D5 missiles from the US Trident facility at Kings Bay Georgia and test fire one of the missiles at the Eastern Test Range in the Atlantic Ocean east of Cape Canaveral.


A nuclear forensics capability applying conventional forensics techniques to radiologically contaminated evidence is to open at the Atomic Weapons Establishment next month. One of only a handful in the world, the facility will enable conventional forensics techniques such as fingerprinting and DNA recovery to be applied to radiologically contaminated evidence to help track it back to its source.

As part of a global initiative to improve nuclear security, the government has also agreed to to release details of previously classified technology to other nations in an attempt to prevent terrorists acquiring a nuclear device or radiological "dirty bomb".

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced the measures at the 53-nation Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, saying that the UK was ready to share secret techniques used to detect the trafficking of nuclear materials and telling the conference: “It is time to share that information so we can all raise our game".

Mr Clegg revealed that the UK has been using screening techniques at UK border entry points to detect the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials since before the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and, more recently, has deployed a technical response force with the specialist capacity needed to detect, render safe, diagnose, and dispose of a radiological or nuclear device.  In October 2005 the Home Office signed a ten year contract valued at £100 million with Serco for Programme Cyclamen, which allows traffic entering UK airports and seaports to be routinely screened to detect the illicit import of radiological substances.

Mr Clegg also signalled concerns among some in government over the security of nuclear information, saying: "We need to do more to focus on protecting the information that terrorists need to obtain and then use those materials – maps of nuclear sites, designs for improvised bombs, how to get past border security, beating emergency response teams and so on."

The government sees its investment in nuclear forensics as having a deterrent effect aimed at encouraging states to keep fissile material stocks under close control to ensure they cannot be used in any attack, and demonstrating to potential terrorists that the international community has the means to bring them to justice.

The Seoul summit aimed to make progress on the internationally-agreed goal of accounting for and securing all nuclear material by 2014.


The Supreme Court has ruled that hundreds of ex-servicemen who were exposed to radiation during British nuclear weapons tests are not entitled to claim damages from the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The veterans blame ill-health, including cancer, skin defects and fertility problems, on their involvement in nuclear tests conducted in Australia, on Christmas Island and in the Pacific Ocean between 1952 and 1958.

Although Lord Wilson, one of the judges who heard the cases, said that the veterans had “lost by the narrowest possible margin”, the Court ruled that it had been too long since the problems had emerged for the claims against the MoD to proceed.  The Supreme Court justices rejected the case by a majority of four to three.

The Court heard ten test cases from a group of 1,011 nuclear test veterans who have fought for eight years to bring the MoD to trial for negligence. Of the 10 veterans, five have since died.   The judgement blocks most of the future claims, but a certain number can still proceed as a result of an earlier legal ruling.

The MoD acknowledges a "debt of gratitude" to the veterans but, facing potential compensation claims totalling millions of pounds, denied negligence.  Unlike the UK, Russia, China, France, the USA, and Canada all pay compensation to nuclear test veterans. Australia and New Zealand give medical treatment to veterans with certain medical conditions.

Reporting on the death of one of the veterans who had brought the case against the MoD, the Sunday Mirror newspaper described the judgement as “a final insult from the country he ­sacrificed his health for”.


Savings of over £80 billion could be made if the Trident replacement programme was cancelled, according to a leading defence economist.

The figures are published in a new discussion paper from the BASIC Trident Commission, which examines defence-industrial aspects of the Trident renewal programme.  The paper looks in particular at the economic and employment implications of a decision to construct new 'Successor' class Trident submarines.

The report, written by defence economist Professor Keith Hartley of the University of York, concludes that up to £83.5 billion could be saved over the period 2016 to 2062, equivalent to an annual average saving of £1.86 billion if the Trident renewal programme was cancelled.  Under a worst-case scenario cancellation would result in job losses of around 9,200 jobs, mainly after 2025, followed by the loss of a further 21,700 jobs after 2052, amounting to a total of almost 31,000 job losses.  However, Professor Hartley concludes that there is sufficient time for government intervention to mitigate against these effects in vulnerable local economies such as Barrow-in-Furness, Aldermaston, and Plymouth where significant numbers of jobs are linked to the Trident programme.  As submarine manufacture is particularly capital-intensive, more alternative jobs could be created with the same investment.

The report states that the option of building a new fleet of four new Astute submarines with nuclear-armed cruise missiles – which is being considered by the Ministry of Defence Trident Alternatives Review – might cost £56.5bn up to 2058, but would be a less effective deterrent.

The consequences of outright cancellation of the system would create difficulties in maintaining the submarine engineering skills base, and Professor Hartley recommended that, if the UK intends to continue with a nuclear-powered submarine programme, employees should be given alternative work in submarine maintenance or the construction of surface ships between orders for hunter-killer submarines.

The study emphasises that the decision on replacing the Trident system should not be dominated by the impact on jobs or industry, but on the contribution the programme might make to UK security, protection, and peace.

The Trident commission is jointly chaired by the former Conservative and Labour defence secretaries Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lord Browne and the former Liberal Democrat leader and foreign and defence spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell and aims to consider options to Trident replacement with the aim of stimulating debate in the run-up to the next election.


A new report by liberal think-tank CentreForum concludes that plans for like-for-like replacement of Trident nuclear weapons are "nonsensical" and are damaging efforts to re-shape the wider armed forces.

The report warns that Britain is “sleepwalking” into making a costly and illogical decision to replace Trident at a capital cost of over £25 billion during a time of deep cuts to the UK's conventional forces, two decades after the collapse of the Soviet threat that Trident was designed to deter.

It concludes that there are no scenarios – including potential threats from Iran, Pakistan or North Korea – in either the near or medium term in which the UK's nuclear weapons provide additional security to that provided by the US strategic forces, stating: "There is no credible nuclear threat to the UK or her allies that will be deterred by a British nuclear weapons programme that is not already deterred by the United States' nuclear forces today or for the foreseeable future."

CentreForum sets out an eight point plan that would see all the savings made from cancelling the Trident renewal programme spent on upgrading conventional forces, alongside a firm commitment to meet the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on military budgets and increase defence equipment expenditure by 1% per annum in real terms through the next parliament.  Existing Trident submarines would be converted to carry conventional cruise missiles for use as a long-range strike weapon.

The report also recommends that the UK should also retain a “nuclear threshold posture” – retaining fissile material, technology, and the engineering capability needed to rebuild nuclear weapons at short notice in case of a “substantial deterioration in the international climate” in future – although it makes it clear that such a fallback is unlikely to be needed.  It also recommends that the expertise at the Atomic Weapons Establishment should be used to develop verification technology necessary for global nuclear disarmament.


The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has published a major global report on the financing of companies that manufacture, modernize and maintain nuclear weapons.

The study, 'Don't Bank on the Bomb' identifies more than 300 banks, insurance companies, pension funds and asset managers from 30 countries that are significant investors in 20 major nuclear weapons manufacturing companies.


Fleet submarine HMS Tireless arrived in Southampton at the beginning of March for a five day publicity visit to the city.  During the trip the submarine was visited by council chiefs and local sea and air cadet groups.   

Tireless visited Southampton almost a year after an officer was shot dead on board another submarine, HMS Astute, by a fellow crew member during a similar visit to the city.

HMS Tireless is no stranger to controversy.  In 2001 the submarine was forced to dock at Gibraltar for nearly a year for emergency repairs after cracking was found in pipework within the nuclear reactor primary cooling circuit, and in 2007 two crew members were killed in an onboard explosion during an exercise under the North Pole icecap.

Visits of nuclear powered submarines to Southampton have been criticised by local campaign group Solent Coalition Against Nuclear Ships, who point out that such visits expose the public to unnecessary radiological risks and that emergency planning arrangements for visits are inconsistent.

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