Round about this time last year NIS competed quite a substantial research project on the costs of replacing Trident, and the consequences of the economic downturn on the decision to replace Trident. We published our report (you can download a copy below), naively expecting the media to seize upon it eagerly, and learnt something about managing expectations when, despite our best efforts to promote it, the study only got a couple of column inches of coverage in one or two of the specialist media outlets.
Over the last twelve months the cost of replacing Trident has gained much more political significance. All the main political parties have forecast significant cuts in public spending after the election, and as a result some of the more independently-minded politicians have started asking just what exactly the UK gets out of being a nuclear-weapons state, and whether we want to spend the huge amounts of money it costs to retain our nuclear capability in future. The public, as usual, are miles ahead of the politicians on this one: for the last couple of years opinion polls have shown a distinct lack of appetite for replacing Trident among the citizens of this country.
Greenpeace recently published a report which looked carefully at the costs of replacing Trident, and calculated that the total whole-life costs of a like-for-like successor to Trident would be £97 billion. To put this figure in context, £97 billion represents £1,500 for every single person alive in the UK today. £97 billion-worth of one pound coins would stretch around the world seven times.
That's a lot of money, and recently Greenpeace has been asking its members what else they would prefer to see the money spent on. Some of the ideas make intriguing reading.
- £97 billion would replace all of England's 3,500 secondary schools twice over.
- A new London to Glasgow high-speed rail link would cost £34 billion, so we could pay for this and the same again for two more countries (provided they have similar geography to Britain!)
- A suit of body armour costs around £500, so we could buy 400 suits for each serving member of the armed forces.
- People sometimes say that if they won the lottery they'd buy a house for their mum. With £97 billion you could buy a posh £500,000 house not only for your mum, but for 193,000 of your best friends as well. Or if you fancied something a bit more flashy, you could buy a brand new Porsche Carrera 911 sports car costing £64,256 for 1.5 million of them.
- We could fill the pensions black hole of all FTSE 100 companies, currently valued at £96 billion, and guarantee a comfortable retirement for pensioners who have worked for a major company.
- £97 billion would fund the humanitarian relief work carried out by the International Committee of the Red Cross for 60 years, or support Wateraid which provides access to clean water for people around the workd, for 1000 years. The new Trident submarines would have a lifetime of 25-30 years and the replacement programme itself would last for around 40 years, but either way, you can keep either the Red Cross or Wateraid afloat for quite a lot longer than the Royal Navy's subs!
And finally – down at my local Co-op you can buy two bags of five mini doughnuts for £1, so if you're feeling hungry, for £97 billion you'd get enough doughnuts to give all 6.8 billion people on the planet 140 doughnuts each. Enough to make us all even sicker than if we threw away the money on new nuclear weapons.