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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 39, July - August 1999

Report Claims UK Working with US & France on Replacement for Trident

In mid-August, the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) released a Special Report - The Next Chevaline Scandal? - suggesting that the UK Government is working, in close association with France and the United States, on developing a prototype warhead which may one day replace the warhead in the country's 4-boat fleet of Trident nuclear-armed submarines. Chevaline was the name of the upgraded warhead for Trident's predecessor, the Polaris force - the 'scandal' refers to the fact that the upgrade was carried without the knowledge or oversight of Parliament, or even all of the Labour Cabinet. According to the CND report, expenditure on the prototype-project is already in the region of $200 million.

In his introduction to the report, Labour MP Alan Simpson writes: "This report summarises work currently being undertaken in the US and UK under the misnomer of 'Stockpile Stewardship and Management Programmes (SSMP)' to maintain a nuclear weapons design, development, production and maintenance capability. It concludes that there is strong evidence that Britain is currently involved in the development of prototype designs to replace the current Trident nuclear warhead. There is also clear evidence that in pursuing this goal Britain has been and continues to work closely with the US and France. Most of the publicly available information about the push for a new generation of nuclear weapons, though available to the American public, still remains secret in Britain."

Simpson told reporters at the launch of the report (11 August) that this 'push' to work now to replace Trident "is likely to be deeply damaging to international negotiations supposed to be in pursuit of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament." However, the same day a Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesperson told The Guardian simply: "There are no plans for a future system."

Editor's note: also in mid-August, a Government-commissioned report by the consultants Quantisci warned that inadequate systems for dealing with high-level radioactive waste was likely to lead to an increase in the British stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium from 92 tons to around 150 tons. The report's significance was stressed by Rachel Western of Friends of the Earth (FoE) on 15 August: "Plutonium has in past studies been classed as a fuel, but this report classes plutonium as a waste and calls for urgent plans for its treatment to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation..."

Reports: The Next Chevaline Scandal?, CND Special Report (http://www.cnduk.org), August; Secret $200m plans for Trident - UK working with US on new warhead, says report, The Guardian, 11 August; Plutonium stockpile set to rise - British report, Reuters, 16 August.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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