Nuclear Weapons And The UK

Trident, Britain’s current nuclear weapon system, consists of 4 British built Vanguard class nuclear powered submarines.  Each carries up to 16 US Trident II D5 missiles.

Three British built nuclear warheads can be mounted on every missile making a maximum of 48 warheads on each submarine. Each warhead can be aimed at a different target and has eight times the power of the bomb which fell on Hiroshima in 1945 killing around 140,000 people.

The missiles which fire the warheads are leased from the US and have to be returned there for servicing.

The submarines are built at Rolls Royce, Derby, and are stationed at the Faslane Naval base on the Clyde, 30 miles south west of Glasgow. The warheads are stored at nearby Coulport.

The warheads are made in Berkshire at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), Aldermaston and assembled at AWE Burghfield, about ten miles from Alderamston.

From Burghfield, they are taken to Coulport, using the motorways where possible.  Only the police in the areas through which the warhead convoys pass, are told when one is expected.  The police may tell the fire and ambulance services if they wish but there is no duty to do so.

Development of the Trident system and its possible replacement

The first Trident submarine entered service in 1994, replacing the previous system, called Polaris.  The other three submarines entered service over the following five years. They have a lifespan of about thirty years and so will remain operational until around 2025.

It took about fifteen years to develop the Trident system.  In March, 2007, the government voted that work should start on a replacement for the submarine system.  The government estimates the cost to be about £25 billion.  However, when running costs for 25 years are included, the true cost is about £75 billion.

Even before the government vote on Trident replacement, there was a huge new building programme at Aldermaston, including a vast computer system, and many new staff have been recruited.  Although the government vote was to replace only the submarines, CND believes that the expansion of Aldermaston is a sure sign that work has already started on a replacement warhead too.

CND strongly opposes Trident replacement, seeing the ageing of Trident as an opportunity for the UK to take the lead in promoting a non-nuclear world.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

In 1968, the UK signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The treaty has three main parts.

  • The five states which had tested nuclear weapons before 1968 – China, France, the Soviet Union, UK and USA – agreed to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control” (Article 6).
  • All other countries agreed not to acquire nuclear weapons.
  • All countries should be helped to develop nuclear power programmes.

CND has always opposed the last of these three, as a nuclear power programme is the first step to a nuclear weapons programme.

It was agreed that The International Atomic Agency should oversee the treaty and assist countries wanting to develop a nuclear power programme.

India, Israel and Pakistan have not signed the treaty and have all developed nuclear weapons.  North Korea signed but withdrew in 2003. Negotiations are in progress for North Korea to end its development of nuclear weapons in return for American aid.

CND believes that for the UK to develop a new nuclear weapons system breaks the undertaking to get rid of nuclear weapons.

For more information on Trident, see www.cnduk.org or Google “Trident”

America also has nuclear weapons in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.