UK Scientists Plead for Axing Nuke Research

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Nuclear Abolition News | IDN Trident Launch | Credit: CND
By Jamshed Baruah
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

LONDON (IDN) - British scientists are calling for axe to fall on nuclear weapons research. In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, 36 science professors plead for protecting core scientific research on compelling issues such as climate change and resource shortages by cutting investment in developing new atomic arsenal.

The Scientists for Global Responsibility, as they are called, include ex-Royal Society head, Sir Michael Atiyah and Nobel Prize winner, Sir Harold Kroto. They highlight how £2 billion a year, over 25% of the government's total scientific research and development budget, is currently spent by the Ministry of Defence as evidenced by the UK Defence Statistics 2010.

Their objections focus on government funding of a multi-billion pound research programme at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston, aimed at developing new nuclear warheads. This year this science programme received an additional £1 billion of government funding, and this level of 'additional investment' is set to continue until 2013, says the letter dated October 13, 2010.

These funds have enabled Aldermaston to buy two new supercomputers known as 'Willow' in May 2010. In August 2010 AWE bought 'Blackthorn', reputedly the UK's most powerful computer. These purchases have been done at undisclosed cost to the taxpayer, the scientists say.

AWE is also set to fund a controversial new hydrodynamics facility that will conduct experiments on materials used to build nuclear warheads -- again at undisclosed cost.

These developments are going ahead despite serious questions existing about the future of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme and a recent pledge by President Barrack Obama that the U.S. will not develop new nuclear warheads.

Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility who co-ordinated the letter said: "It's completely irrational to cut scientific research into medical and environmental problems whilst pouring billions of pounds of research money into facilities for designing new nuclear warheads."

'COLD WAR IS OVER'

He continued: "The Cold War is over. The major security threats we will face in the coming years have their roots in problems like climate change and resource shortages. These are the areas where more of our research should be focussed, and yet the UK currently devotes 20 times more research funding to military projects than to renewable energy. If cuts have to come, it's clear to us that Aldermaston is where the axe should fall."

The call by the Scientists for Global Responsibility comes at a point in time when the fight for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) -- a network of regional organisations, local groups and individual members, covering the whole of Britain -- has intensified its fight against the Trident, UK's nuclear weapons system.

It consists of four nuclear-armed submarines, one of which is on patrol, under the seas, at all times. Each Trident submarine carries up to 48 nuclear warheads, each of which can be fired at a different target.

Each warhead has an explosive power of up to 100 kilotons, the equivalent of 100,000 tons of conventional high explosive. This is 8 times the power of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, killing an estimated 140,000 people.

There are three parts to the system: the warheads -- which are the explosive 'bombs', the missiles which carry them, and the submarines which carry the missiles. The submarines are made in Britain at Barrow-in-Furness, refitted at Devonport, and maintained at Faslane, Scotland. The missiles are leased from the US. The warheads are made at the AWE Aldermaston and stored at Faslane.

Britain has been nuclear-armed since 1952, buying into the U.S. nuclear weapons system Polaris from 1968 to 1996 and Trident from 1994.

"By continuing to possess nuclear weapons, Britain is failing to comply with its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which it signed in 1968. Under the NPT Britain has committed itself to disarm, with Article VI stating that signatories will pursue," says the CND.

TRIDENT REPLACEMENT

The current Trident submarines will begin to reach the end of their service life in 2024. In December 2006, the British government argued in a White Paper, The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent, that a replacement should be agreed immediately.

CND believes that if the government goes ahead and replaces Trident, it ties us to a security policy based on weapons of mass destruction and the possibility of killing millions of people. It will contribute to global tension and increases the risk of a new nuclear arms race.

CND opposes this position, and its arguments are set out in an Alternative White Paper. (IDN-InDepthNews/15.10.2010)

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External links:
Letter to UK Prime Minister
http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/letter-david-cameron-regarding-public-science-funding-cuts-and-nuclear-weapons-research
UK Defence Statistics 2010. Table 1.8.
http://www.dasa.mod.uk/modintranet/UKDS/UKDS2010/c1/table108.php

In 2009 Quentin Davies announced that investment at Aldermaston would increase to £1bn a year up to the end of March 2013
http://bit.ly/d7Tl0C (Column 136WS)
In May 2010 AWE bought two new supercomputers known as ‘Willow’
http://bit.ly/crgT7w .
Then in August 2010 AWE bought ‘Blackthorn’ reputedly the UK’s largest supercomputer
http://tridentreplacement.net/node/1972
AWE has also just received planning permission to build a controversial hydrodynamics facility known as Hydrus – again at undisclosed cost. http://www.nuclearinfo.org/view/nuclear+sites/AWE+Aldermaston/a2096
New Nuclear Posture Review Briefing by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
http://www.jcs.mil/speech.aspx?id=1355
Alternative White Paper
http://www.cnduk.org/images/stories/briefings/trident/alt_white_paper_07.pdf

 

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