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Trident upgrades nuclear warhead in secret

You might have been under the impression that the big decision over whether Britain should retain its nuclear capability was coming at the end of the year - but it seems like it may already be academic.

The issue spurred intense debate at the start of 2016 within the Labour party, as Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time campaigner for nuclear disarmament, had to try and reconcile his own views with that of his party as a whole, who are fairly split on the issue.

But now an obscure letter from the Ministry of Defence, dated 2 July 2014 and discovered by the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), reveals that work is already under way at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Berkshire - aka Britain's nuclear bomb factory - to upgrade the existing Trident arsenal, and also develop an entirely new warhead. The new 'Mark 4A' warhead will apparently be more accurate and have increased destructive power, while the existing W76 warhead is being upgraded to improve its performance and extend its lifespan. It is believed that £85m has already been spent by the AWE.

Peter Burt of the NIS said: “The Mark 4A warhead modification programme will allow Trident nuclear warheads to remain in service until the middle of this century, and plenty of money is being spent to pave the way for developing a new generation warhead which will remain in service for even longer.”

However, this is only the latest in a line of spending that has already gone through. The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced a £642m spending plan in March, which would bring the total spent on the replacement programme to an astonishing £3.9bn. The total cost of replacing the four Trident submarines, which would become operational in 2030 and last until 2070, is estimated by the government to be £39bn - however, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament believes it would actually cost £205bn.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a CND rally in February

The Ministry of Defence has declined to answer all questions on costs on the basis that the information is classified, however, a spokesperson said: “The government is committed to maintaining minimum continuous at-sea deterrence to deter the most extreme threats to the UK and to protect our vital interests; a decision on replacing the warhead will be taken when necessary.”

The arguments on both sides of the debate remain valid: opponents argue that we would never actually use the weapon, even if attacked, and that modern warfare has no need of a nuclear bomb, while supporters maintain that a program of Mutually Assured Destruction is the only way to combat hostile nuclear states. A further argument suggests that, even if you support a nuclear deterrent, a submarine is the wrong method of delivery, as in the increasing power of drones will leave them vulnerable to discovery. In addition, many will be unhappy that vast sums of money are being spend before a course of action has even been agreed.

[via Guardian]

(Images: Rex)