United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is a nuclear-armed state, estimated by the SIPRI Yearbook 2013, and in accordance with the Coalition Government’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), to possess no more than 225 nuclear weapons, of which some 160 are operationally available.  After British scientists participated in the US Manhattan Project, the UK clandestinely pursued a nuclear weapons programme of its own before going public with its...

The United Kingdom is a nuclear-armed state, estimated by the SIPRI Yearbook 2013, and in accordance with the Coalition Government’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), to possess no more than 225 nuclear weapons, of which some 160 are operationally available.  After British scientists participated in the US Manhattan Project, the UK clandestinely pursued a nuclear weapons programme of its own before going public with its first nuclear test on 3 October 1952 at Montebello, Australia.  The UK conducted 45 nuclear tests at various Pacific sites and then the US Nevada Test Site before the 1992 US moratorium forced Britain’s nuclear testing programme to an end.

Though it developed a range of different nuclear forces during the Cold War, the UK now deploys only one system, using UK warheads on US Trident missiles carried on four Vanguard-class nuclear submarines.  After an in-principle decision by Parliament in 2007 to procure 4 new submarines and renew the Trident-based nuclear weapons to 2050 at an estimated cost of £76-100 billion, public opposition to the replacement of Trident has been increasing.  The ‘main gate’ procurement decision has been delayed until 2016, amid growing questions about the purpose and affordability of replacing Trident.  Debates in Scotland over independence are also calling the feasibility of Trident replacement into question, as the UK’s nuclear warheads are stored in Scotland at Coulport, close to the Faslane naval base where the submarines are home-ported.   UK nuclear warheads are designed and manufactured at the Atomic Weapons Establishments (AWE) at Aldermaston and Burghfield, near London.

The UK is a depositary state for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and one of the treaty’s five defined Nuclear Weapon States (NWS).  The UK signed and ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1998.  The UK is a state party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) and a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).  As at January 2012, the UK is a state party to the Mine Ban Treaty and a state party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). The UK signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in June 2013, and ratified it in April 2014. It is a member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). It is a member of the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD).   It is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

18 June 2015

A Royal Navy submariner who published an online dossier of safety and security concerns about the Trident nuclear programme has been discharged from the service.

Able Seaman William McNeilly warned the UK’s nuclear deterrent was a "disaster...

17 June 2015

The Trident safety whistleblower, William McNeilly, says he has been dishonourably discharged from the Royal Navy to protect its public image.

In a nine-page report posted online, the former...

17 May 2015

Trident submarines are plagued by serious security lapses, beset by multiple safety blunders and “a disaster waiting to happen”, according to a nuclear weapons engineer turned whistleblower now being hunted by the police.

William McNeilly, who says he was on patrol with HMS...

22 April 2013

The Spring 2013 edition of Proliferation in Parliament offers a review of news, debates and developments in the UK Parliament and Government on issues relating to nuclear weapons, disarmament and proliferation.  It is published in mid-April 2013 as parliamentarians return...

15 January 2013

The Winter 2012-2013 edition of Proliferation in Parliament offers a review of news, debates and developments in the UK Parliament and Government on issues relating to nuclear weapons, disarmament and proliferation.  It is published in January 2013 following the Christmas...

11 September 2012

This is the Summer 2012 edition of the Acronym Institute newsletter Proliferation in Parliament.  It offers a review of news, debates and developments in the UK Parliament and Government on issues relating to nuclear weapons,...

Dr Rebecca Johnson
16 July 2013

The government's Trident Alternatives Review" (TAR), an edited version of which was made public Tuesday 16 July failed to resolve the fundamental differences between the Conservative and Lib...

Dr Rebecca Johnson
24 May 2010

Oh dear oh dear oh dear! Today in Main Committee I we were treated to what looked like a semi-coordinated Push Back by the P-5 Nuclear Weapons Addicts.  One by one they took the floor to complain about a number of places where the nuclear weapons possessors were, to quote Russia, being “put...

Dr Rebecca Johnson
20 May 2010

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference President Libran Cabactulan (Philippines) held his 14th plenary late on Wednesday 19th May to “take stock”. The three Committee chairs all reported that negotiations were proceeding on the basis of the draft reports...

28 January 2015

Read about the latest political activity around nuclear weapons in the UK, including the Opposition Day Debate about Trident replacement.

Parliamentary update: Nuclear Weapons Policy Liaison Group, 5th - 26th January 2014

 
This parliamentary update is also...
Dr Rebecca Johnson
17 December 2014

Driven by “the imperative of human security for all", Austria pledged at the...

Dr Rebecca Johnson
27 November 2014

Preventable Threats: The humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons: UK risks and challenges

Something new and challenging is shaking up the world of nuclear weapons and proliferation. In March 2013, 128 governments met in Oslo to discuss the humanitarian impacts of these weapons of mass...

9 June 2015

Marquess of Lothian:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent is vulnerable to espionage as a result of insufficient maritime patrol surveillance.

Earl Howe:

The...

28 May 2015

HM Naval Base Clyde

4.51 pm

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): I should first thank the Justice Secretary. In his anxiety to avoid answering a simple question, he has extended the time available for the Adjournment debate by 10 minutes, with his customary generosity....

9 March 2015

 

The UK parliamentary debate on the NPT on 9 March was opened by former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, but sparsely attended by members of the House of Commons. While some MPs evoked Britain's role in the NPT and P5 as justification for retaining nuclear weapons and...

22 December 2014

The third annual report by the MOD, detailing the progress made on the Successor programme over the last 12 months and plans for the coming year, was published in December 2014. It is available on the www.gov.uk website...

Author(s): House of Commons Defence Select Committee
27 March 2014

Read below the Conclusions and Recommendations of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee Enquiry into Deterrence in the twenty-first century, published in March 2014.  The full report is available to view on the...

Author(s): Negotiators for P5+1 & Iran
24 November 2013

Preamble

The goal for these negotiations is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that
would ensure Iran's nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful. Iran reaffirms that under no
circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any...

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