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Defence Committee
Written evidence from the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

1. The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has produced two reports in 2012 which relate to the terms of reference of the inquiry. Trident: Nowhere to Go argues that there are no viable and practical alternative locations, outside Scotland, for the Trident nuclear force. Disarming Trident presents a timescale for the deactivation of the Trident force, the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland and the dismantlement of these weapons. This is a summary of these two reports.

2. Malcolm Chalmers and William Walker, in their book Uncharted Waters: the U.K., nuclear weapons and the Scottish question (2001), described how the Ministry of Defence (MOD) considered a number of alternative sites for Polaris in 1963. Trident: Nowhere to Go re-examines this issue in the light of documents released into the National Archives over the last five years.

3. There are geographic constraints on the location of a replacement for Faslane. Only sites on the West and Southwest coasts of Britain were considered in 1963, because nuclear submarines prefer to operate in water deeper than 100 fathoms. Submarines should have ready access to the base at all times. The difficulties moving Vanguard class submarines in and out of Devonport for refits suggest that Devonport might not be suitable. In addition, facilities for ballistic-missile submarines, in particular any dock or shiplift, should not be too close to urban areas.

4. Finding a replacement for Coulport would be particularly difficult. The objections listed in 1963 to alternative sites are only a starting point. Trident today requires a depot which is larger than was proposed for Polaris. Explosive safety distances have increased. This affects the spacing between facilities and their distance from inhabited areas. In addition, a Trident D5 missile has substantially more explosive power than a Polaris missile. Even though missile processing work was transferred to the United States, the MOD expanded Coulport to three times its original size, in order to accommodate Trident.

5. In 1979 the MOD recognised that it would be difficult to accommodate Trident at Coulport. The possibility of relocating the depot was raised. Sir Frank Cooper, Permanent Under Secretary of State at the MOD, said that it was “most unlikely that they would be permitted to build a new depot on a greenfield site. This judgement was made during the Cold War and before the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima. Today the only viable sites for new nuclear power stations are existing nuclear locations. Rebuilding Coulport on a greenfield site is unlikely to be a viable option.

6. Converting either of the two current nuclear submarine sites in England would be very difficult. Submarines movements in and out of Barrow are severely restricted by the shallow water in the estuary. Barrow is not a suitable site for an operational base or a depot.

7. The combined explosive power of eight Trident missiles is equivalent to 560 tonnes of TNT. The Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator are unlikely to permit the handling of these missiles, or even the routine basing of armed Trident submarines, at Devonport because it is within a city which has a population of 250,000.

8. The Explosives Handling Jetty at Coulport is 3 kilometres from the nearest villages of Garelochhead, to the Northeast, and Ardentinny, to the Southwest. These safety distances cannot be replicated at any of the alternative sites in England and Wales which were shortlisted in 1963.

9. Trident could only be sited at Milford Haven if the oil and LNG facilities in the estuary were closed. Building a Coulport-sized depot at Falmouth would result in the evacuation of a large area of land. The proposed site for the nuclear-weapons depot would be far closer to Falmouth than Faslane and Coulport are to Helensburgh, which has a similar population.

10. In 1981 the MOD considered basing the Trident fleet, including nuclear warheads, at King’s Bay in the United States. Following advice from Washington, this option was not pursued. Compliance with the provisions of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, including the need to maintain national control over nuclear weapons at all times, would be problematic. Operating Trident from King’s Bay would also make the force transparently more dependent on United States support.

11. The option of basing Trident in France is unrealistic for similar reasons. Because of spacing constraints, it would not be possible to share the existing site at Ile Longue. The British government would have to build separate facilities at a new location in France. This would be even more difficult than building a base and depot in England or Wales.

12. The conclusion of the Scottish CND report is that there are no practical alternative locations for Trident. As a result, if the government of an independent Scotland maintained a stance of refusing to host nuclear weapons, then Britain would effectively cease to be a nuclear-weapon state. If Britain abandoned its nuclear arsenal this would improve the prospects for global nuclear disarmament and reduce the risks of nuclear proliferation.

13. Our second report, Disarming Trident, addresses the question of how quickly the Trident nuclear weapon system could be deactivated, removed from Scotland and disarmed. The submarine on patrol could return to base within 7 days. The system could be put beyond practical use within one additional day. The warheads could be offloaded into the magazines at Coulport within 8 weeks. Transporting the whole stockpile from Scotland could be completed within 2 years. It would take around 4 years to dismantle these weapons at Burghfield. The report suggests reactivating the Special Ammunition Site at RAF Honington as a temporary store. A sovereign Scottish government could legally insist that Trident must be removed and could present this as a realistic timetable.

14. Dr Bruce Blair, the leading world expert on the de-alerting of nuclear forces, described this timetable as “highly credible. He added, “my studies have determined that many of the steps could be taken at a pace that is nearly twice as fast, though the more leisurely pace in the SCND timetable ensures a completely safe process of dismantlement. Professor Richard Garwin, who has advised successive American governments on nuclear weapons issues, said “the missiles and nuclear warheads can be disabled within weeks and removed within two years and dismantled within four years, if that were judged to be desirable and the decision made to do so. The Scottish Government’s response to the report was, “We are firmly committed to the earliest possible withdrawal of Trident from Scotland and to the pursuit of a world which is free from nuclear weapons. The suggested timetable is a welcome indication of how quickly Trident could be removed once Scotland has the power to decide its own defence and security policy.

15. The attitudes of the governments of the Remainder of the United Kingdom (RUK) and of the United States would influence the ease with which these proposals could be implemented. It is sometimes said that both governments would firmly resist any attempt to achieve nuclear disarmament in this way. However I would challenge these assumptions.

16. The rationale for British nuclear forces during the Cold War was weak and it is now particularly fragile. Today, the fundamental concept that nuclear weapons give Britain status can only be whispered, or recorded in a Prime Minister’s autobiography.

17. The independence of Trident is at best suspect. In 1978, the Duff-Mason report defined “independence as meaning that the UK would keep only 12 months supply of spare parts for the successor to Polaris.

18. There have always been some people in the Treasury and in other parts of the armed forces who have questioned the amount which the MOD spends on nuclear weapons. These concerns may not be very public, but in the current economic climate they are likely to be significant.

19. The United States government might embrace the prospect of British nuclear disarmament rather than seeking to undermine it. President Kennedy regarded the Polaris Sales Agreement (1963) as an error. President Carter was not enthusiastic about supplying Trident C4 to Britain. The UK’s nuclear weapons’ stockpile may become a more significant factor as the United States and Russia reduce their arsenals closer to the UK’s level. A re-elected Obama administration might not actively seek to sustain the status quo of the British nuclear force if this was challenged by Scottish independence.

20. There are many countries around the world who, at NPT conferences, argue that progress towards nuclear disarmament is too slow. These nations are unlikely to look favourably on any attempt by an RUK government to force another sovereign state to be the unwilling host of all its nuclear weapons.


Trident: Nowhere to go, CND and Scottish CND, January 2012,

Disarming Trident, Scottish CND and Scotland’s for Peace, June 2012, http://banthebomb.org/ne/images/stories/pdfs/disarmingtrident.pdf
Sunday Herald, 17 June 2012


July 2012

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