The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) is concerned to hear of the serious misfiring of a Trident nuclear missile in a test 200 miles off the coast of Florida in June 2016. It is even more concerned that this has only come to light after an article in the Sunday Times. The failed test has never been publicly acknowledged to Parliament, despite the effusiveness given by the Prime Minister in the pivotal July 2016 debate and vote that approved billions to be spent on Trident replacement.
According to the article in the Sunday Times, and further reporting by the BBC, this was the first test firing of a Trident missile in four years, and it has failed badly. The report notes that the Navy had not performed such a test for four years because of the expense of it. It also notes that tests carried out in 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2012, all of which had been successful were much publicised by the Ministry of Defence. The current test also took place after the submarine had been refitted with new missile launch equipment and upgraded computer systems. (1)
Neither the Prime Minister nor the Secretary of State for Defence made any comment in the pivotal debate that committed the Government to spending tens, if not hundreds of billions, on the Trident replacement system. Yesterday, the Prime Minister refused four times on the BBC to comment whether she knew of this failed test. If she did not know that would be worrying in itself. (2)
Given that the test failed, and there remain major technical, safety and security issues in upgrading and replacing the Trident programme (3), it is of real alarm to the NFLA that such important issues were not made known to Parliament before the debate on this issue in July 2016. NFLA calls for a full, open inquiry into this matter and that the Ministry of Defence provides detailed information to Parliament that explains whether this failed test impacts on the Trident replacement programme.
NFLA does not agree with the comments of former nuclear submarine commander and Ulster Unionist Party assembly member, Steve Aiken, made today on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme, that: “There is a convention that we don’t talk about the deterrent… because that is the nature of the deterrent – it is about the security of this nation and I would fully support the prime minister in avoiding those questions.”
It is actually quite fair and reasonable for Parliament to want to have the key facts on the effectiveness of the Trident programme and whether it is fit for purpose. Apart from being a moral, ethical and financial matter, Trident replacement is no deterrent at all if it does not work. Accidents involving nuclear weapons have regularly happened, as Eric Schlosser’s chilling book ‘Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety’ has forensically explained. (4) In a democratic system it is only right and proper for the Prime Minister to provide detail on our nuclear weapons programme, and not just give her personal opinion.
NFLA is pleased opposition MPs are seeking a statement and debate on these matters in Parliament. A different Parliamentary debate in July would certainly have happened if this information was known. The other obvious question to ask is, if these tests are only every three or four years, are we now going to wait until 2019 or 2020 to know if this programme costing the UK taxpayer billions actually does work? For the NFLA, It remains arguable Trident actually protects the UK from military attack. In the NFLA’s view it certainly does not protect the UK from global terrorism or international cyber attacks, which could be as devastating in the future as a nuclear weapon attack has been in the past.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
I find it disgraceful that it has taken seven months to find out about this failed test of our Trident nuclear weapons programme. And then it is only through the media. How can we trust our Government on these matters if it acts in a similar way to regimes like North Korea in not telling our Parliament when things go wrong? NFLA calls for an urgent public inquiry. It also calls on the Government to prioritise multilateral nuclear disarmament at the upcoming UN talks on a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. There has to be a better way to create a more peaceful world.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) Sunday Times, 22nd January 2017 http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/no-10-covered-up-trident-missile-fiasco-hch3shsrn
(2) BBC, 23rd January 2017 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38714047
(3) In comments given to the NFLA Scotland seminar in Dunfermline by CND Scotland Co-ordinator John Ainslie, of its analysis into the Trident replacement programme, key issues included:
- The basic procurement cost has jumped from £15-20 billion to £41 billion.
- The Main Gate decision has essentially been delayed, to be replaced by “staged investment”.
- The in-service date of the new submarine has been postponed from 2024 to “early 2030s”.
- Vanguard class submarines, which had a design life of 25 years, are due to be kept in service and on patrol for 38 years.
- Major restructuring suggests that the defence nuclear programme has been badly managed.
- A Fuel Element Breach at the submarine prototype reactor in Dounreay in 2012 has had a major impact on the nuclear submarine programme, including the new Successor submarine.
- The new facility for manufacturing nuclear fuel cores has been postponed from 2021 to 2026.
- Rolls Royce is having major problems developing the reactor for the Successor submarine because of a shortage of key specialist staff.
- The new submarines will carry 8 missiles, but will be built with 12 missile tubes.
- The Successor submarine is likely to follow the example of Astute – being late and considerably over budget.
- The Atomic Weapons Establishment has seen inadequate levels of management and there are similar problems with the US nuclear weapons programme.
- The equivalent submarine programme in the US, Ohio Replacement, is a major financial burden for the US Government.
- A new missile would be needed, in due course, for the new US and British submarines, but this requirement has been to date ignored.
(4) Eric Schlosser, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, Penguin Books, 2013.