No to Trident

Trident missile launchTrident is Britain's nuclear weapons system. It is made up of three parts: the warheads - which are the explosive 'bombs', the missiles which carry them, and the submarines which carry the missiles. The submarines are made at Barrow-in-Furness, refitted at Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth, and maintained at Faslane in Scotland. The missiles are leased from the US. The warheads are made at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston and are stored at Faslane.

One of the submarines remains on patrol at all times and each submarine carries an estimated eight missiles, each of which can carry up to five warheads – 40 in total. Each warhead has an explosive power of up to 100 kilotons of conventional high explosive.

This is 8 times the power of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, killing an estimated 240,000 people from blast and radiation.

The case against Trident

Nuclear weapons have no legitimate purpose. Their use would be illegal under virtually every conceivable circumstance as civilian casualties would be unavoidable. They are genocidal and completely immoral. When confronted with any of today's real security threats nuclear weapons are irrelevant: they cannot address the actual threats the government has identified – terrorism, cyber warfare and climate change.

Not only do nuclear weapons kill indiscriminately but the radioactive fallout from their detonation means that their effects know no geographical boundaries. Immediate survivors in the vicinity of any nuclear exchange face devastating long-term ill effects or death. Recent research shows that even a so-called ‘small exchange’ of 50 nuclear weapons could cause ‘the largest climate change in recorded human history’ and potentially could kill more people than were killed in the whole of the Second World War.

Trident replacement

The first of the four Trident submarines was launched in 1994, beginning the replacement of the previous Polaris system.

The Government is now planning a replacement for the Trident submarines when they reach the end of their service life in 2028. The new submarines will be designed to be in service for a further 30 years.

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. In March 2007, Parliament voted to pursue the submarine replacement and their design is now underway. The final decision on whether to proceed with the replacement is due to be taken in 2016. The government has recently announced an interim report - called the Initial Gate - that has narrowed detailed design work to a particular model. The report stated that since 2007 around £900m has been spent on designing the submarines. The report has allocated a further £3bn on design for the period 2011 to 2016 when construction will begin if replacement is approved. The latest official estimate is that the submarines will cost £25 billion to design and construct. Previous government estimates, at the time of the White Paper, suggested half that figure.

Alongside the report, a review was announced, of the costs, feasibility and credibility of alternative systems and postures, to be overseen by the Liberal Democrat Defence Minister, Nick Harvey MP. Following Harvey's departure from the MoD in 2012, this is now being overseen by Danny Alexander MP.

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review announced a reduction in the number of missiles and warheads that the replacement submarines would carry. The overall warhead stockpile will be reduced from 225 to 180, whilst the operational stockpile will be reduced from 160 to 120. The number of missiles on each submarine will be reduced from 12 to 8.

Trident submarine

General election 2010 and political party opinion

Trident was a major point of debate in the 2010 General Election.

The Conservatives stated they were committed to a replacement, 'based on the Trident missile system'. The Labour Party said, 'we will maintain our independent nuclear deterrent', while the Liberal Democrats led the debate on Trident and said 'no to like-for-like replacement of Trident' and that they would 'hold a full defence review to establish the best alternative for Britain's future security.' The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, which gained its first MP, all strongly opposed the replacement of Trident.

Following the election, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Programme for Government stated, 'We will maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and have agreed that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money. Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for alternatives.' During the Labour Party's leadership election, eventual winner Ed Miliband said that Trident should have been included in the defence review.

Public opinion

There is widespread public opposition to the replacement of Trident. A key factor in the growth of popular opposition is the cost of replacement – now over £100 billion – and the opportunity cost it presents for spending in more socially useful areas such as health, education and jobs.

Trade unions including Unite, UNISON, CWU, PCS, RMT, TSSA, ASLEF and the NUJ have said no to Trident replacement - contributing to a vote to oppose it at the TUC Congress in 2006.

Opinion polls have regularly shown majority opposition, including 63% wanting spending cuts to include scrapping Trident in June 2010.

And during the General Election 2010, senior military figures including Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbotham, General Sir Hugh Beach and Major-General Patrick Cordingley questioned the long-term consequences for the military and the defence equipment budget if Trident replacement was pursued.


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