Sep 28 2012

How to disarm nuclear warheads

Written by Kate Hudson

Can we actually get rid of nuclear weapons? This is a question I get asked on quite a regular basis at public meetings. And it's a good question that has a simple answer: yes we can. While I am no scientist or engineer, even I can understand how to dismantle a nuclear weapon, thanks to CND's new briefing 'Disarming Trident'.

Following detailed research by John Ainslie from Scottish CND, we have been able to produce this simple step-by-step guide.

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You can find the new report here. It sets out to demystify the disarmament process and show how within four years Britain could dismantle its nuclear warheads. Let it not be said that we activists aren’t practically-minded!

As I wrote recently for Left Foot Forward, the report is based on the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) practices for operating the Trident nuclear weapons system. "This includes the processes of deploying, removing and storing nuclear warheads used by the Vanguard class submarines, based at HMNB Clyde, as well as a detailed knowledge of the MoD’s infrastructure and facilities which service Trident.

When a Scotland-focused version of this report was released in June it was commended by international defence and security experts as proposing a serious and credible timeframe. Over eight phases, each with realistic timeframes, the report explains how Britain’s nuclear weapons could be deactivated and then dismantled.

The report also discusses verification measures which could be used to confirm the completion of the phases without compromising sensitive or classified information.

Practical steps towards verification measures

Since 2007, Britain and Norway have collaborated on an initiative to explore how a non-nuclear weapons state (NNWS) could verify a state had dismantled its nuclear arsenal. Through several practical exercises, the use of Information Barriers (IBs) was developed. IBs work through agreed boundaries between parties which protect sensitive information/components while enabling enough transparency to ascertain whether or not nuclear weapons are being dismantled.

Here are the phases in brief (though for full details please see the report):

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Though this concept is still in development, the framework of this process provides a foundation on which to build confidence in future dismantlement verification techniques.

Clearing the thicket

With so much hyperbole and obfuscation in the nuclear weapons debate, as much clarity and honesty is needed as possible. We hope this report goes some way to showing the clear steps which could be taken to deactivate and dismantle Britain’s nuclear weapons - and the rapid time frame in which this could happen. In doing so, we hope to debunk the myth that disarmament is just too much trouble to be worth it.

Even previous supporters of Trident are starting to question spending more than £100 billion on replacing and maintaining it. This is especially acute at a time when conventional defence forces are being axed to pay for Trident, the government’s own National Security Strategy downgraded its significance, and senior military figures say it is redundant.

Now more than ever, there should be a clear-headed debate about whether or not maintaining a nuclear weapons system is the right thing to do, and this report makes that a more accessible and intelligible prospect."