Sunday, 23 February 2020

A nuclear explosive revelation

Yesterday’s Observer Sunday newspaper breaks probably the most important news story of the week. For reasons hard to fathom, the editor placed it on page 20!

Broken by Jamie Doward, one of the few investigative reporters still engaged by  national newspaper- and who has a track record of breaking path-breaking nuclear stories Government’s don’t want the media to report - it concerns the long expected development  of the UK collaborating with the US to replace the ageing Trident nuclear warheads – jointly designed by Aldermaston and Los Alamos weapons labs scientists -  in its stockpile.

Doward reported: “Earlier this month, Pentagon officials confirmed that its proposed W93 sea-launched warhead, the nuclear tip of the next generation of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, would share technology with the UK’s next nuclear weapon, implying that a decision had been taken between the two countries to work on the programme.

(“Pentagon reveals deal with Britain to replace Trident: MPs dismayed after US defence officials leak news of nuclear weapons deal before parliament is told, 23 February 2020; “

The Observer explained that last week Admiral Charles Richard, commander of the US strategic command, told the Senate defence committee that there was a requirement for a new warhead, which would be called the W93 or Mk7. Richard said: “This effort will also support a parallel replacement warhead programme in the United Kingdom, whose nuclear deterrent plays an absolutely vital role in Nato’s overall defence posture.”

Alan Shaffer, Pentagon deputy under-secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, also made reference to the new UK programme in a briefing session at the annual nuclear deterrence summit, in Alexandria, Virginia. “I think it’s wonderful that the UK is working on a new warhead at the same time, and I think we will have discussions and be able to share technologies,” Shaffer said.

Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists, said the development of the new warhead posed significant geopolitical problems. “Britain and the US have come a long away from being leaders in reducing the role of nuclear weapons and contemplating the possible road toward potential disarmament to re-embracing nuclear weapons for the long haul. They are obviously not alone in this, with Russia, China and France doing their own work. So, overall, this is a serious challenge for the international non-proliferation regime,” he said.

SNP defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald rightly raised the question about how the decision could impact the UK's commitment to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.(NPT) saying "This is a quite astonishing story. Not only are we learning about a new UK nuclear missiles programme from the US Senate, but the programme itself clearly sets the UK on course to breach the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory. "The treaty makes it clear that nuclear armed states are required to 'pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.' This programme clearly rips up that commitment and that is of utmost concern. (“Leaked plan to renew Trident sets UK on course to break nuclear treaty,: The National , 3 February 2020;

David Cullen, director of technical research group the Nuclear Information Service, told the Observer “The UK’s reliance on US knowledge and assistance for their nuclear weapons programme means they will find it almost impossible to diverge from any development path the US decides to take. “We are legally bound to take steps towards disarmament under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but this would take us in the opposite direction.”


The concern over nuclear warhead development for the UK’s  nuclear WMDs - including  contemporaneously the rented rockets from the US Trident missile stocks at King’s Bay,   in Georgia - has a long legacy.. This has been raised in Parliament over the past sixty or so years by a very small number of MPs who have scrutinised this least transparent of defence procurement exercises.

One such MP with a consistently strong record of serious scrutiny is outgoing Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

For example, he asked the MOD in June 1990 what information in support of the United Kingdom nuclear weapons and warhead design and development had been made available by the United States under the 1958–59 as amended mutual defence agreement on atomic energy matters?

Defence minister Alan Clark said helpfully in response: “It has been the policy of successive British Governments not to disclose information exchanged under the terms of the 1958 United Kingdom/United States defence agreement.

Corbyn also asked what would be the financial savings made if the planned number of warheads for the Trident D5 programme were reduced by (i) 50 per cent. and (ii) 75 per cent?

Clark added again helpfully: ” It has been the policy of successive Governments not to reveal details of this nature, for security reasons.

A decade later, Corbyn brought up the issue on Trident nuclear warheads, this time with Labour Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, whom he asked what information senior officers on Trident submarines are given on the specific yields and likely targets of the missiles they are responsible for. [104077]

Hoon replied: “The Trident missiles on which our nuclear deterrent is based have been de-targeted since 1994. In the circumstances of our having to use our nuclear weapons, 95W members of the patrolling submarine crew would be provided with the information they need to discharge their duties.” adding ever helpfully “ I am withholding the details of this information under Exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information relating to defence, security and international relations.”

Hoon also stressed: “The United Kingdom's minimum nuclear deterrent is consistent with international law. It follows that UK military personnel engaged in the operation or support of Trident are acting legally under the Nuremberg Principals. This has been made clear down the chain of command, and members of the Armed Services who seek further guidance on these issues can in the first instance do so through their chain of command.

Guidance on the Law of Armed Conflict for the Armed Services is set out in the draft Joint Service Manual on the Law of Armed Conflict (Joint Service Publication 383)…. The relevant section on Nuclear Weapons was reconfirmed following the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. It reads: ‘There is no specific rule of international law, express or implied, which prohibits the use of nuclear weapons. The legality of their use depends upon the application of the general rules of international law, including those regulating the inherent right of self defence and the conduct of hostilities. Those rules cannot be applied in isolation from any factual context to imply a prohibition of a general nature. Whether the use, or threatened use, of nuclear weapons in a particular case is lawful depends on all the circumstances. Nuclear weapons fall to be dealt with by reference to the same general principles as apply to conventional weapons. However, the new rules introduced in Additional Protocol I [to the Geneva Conventions] are not intended to have any effect on and do not regulate or prohibit the use of nuclear weapons.’”

A further decade later, in late March 2009, and Corbyn was still probing the MOD on Trident warheads, asking the MOD what was its most recent estimate is of the cost of the replacement of the Trident nuclear warhead system. [267184]

Labour’s Defence Secretary, John Hutton, responded, stating: :We published our initial estimate of the costs for the possible refurbishment or replacement of the warhead for our future nuclear deterrent capability in the December 2006 nuclear White Paper. This is in the range of £2 billion to £3 billion at 2006-07 prices. We have not yet made a decision to develop a new UK nuclear warhead. However, work is being undertaken to inform decisions, likely to be taken in the next Parliament, on whether and how we might need to refurbish or replace our current warhead.(emphasis added)

Corbyn followed up with a perspicacious  question - in light of today’s Observer revelations that the WMD warhead replacement was being undertaken behind the back of Parliamentary scrutiny, requesting the Defence Secretary to assure the House of Commons that there would be “no expenditure on developing a new warhead without the specific approval of the House of Commons,” and added the supplementary seeking assurance the MOD was “satisfied that the development of a whole new warhead system is legal within the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty”?

Unsurprisingly, but disingenuously, Hutton retorted:Yes, I believe that it certainly would be within the framework of the non-proliferation treaty. The NPT did not require unilateral disarmament on the part of the United Kingdom, and we are able to maintain very properly within the terms of the NPT our minimum nuclear deterrent; and, yes, I believe that there should be a vote in this House before such a decision was taken.”

It may be noted Corbyn asked nothing about unilateral nuclear disarmament, but this was gratuitously included in the answer,

Other MPs have explored WMD warhead replacement and deployment in earlier exchanges in Parliament.

For example, the inveterate peace and nuclear disarmament campaigner, Labour MP Frank Allaun asked in March 1962 if the Government would request the United States Government to circulate to their North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies details of the steps taken to ensure security of nuclear warheads where custody pending use remains with the United States Government.

The minister Joseph Godber declined, asserting “No, Sir. The North Atlantic Alliance is aware that the security of such nuclear warheads is rigidly enforced and that they remain in the constant physical custody of United States military detachments. Detailed security arrangements are concluded bilaterally between the United States and each North Atlantic Treaty Organisation country concerned. I see no reason to recommend any change.

Allaun followed up asking: “But has not the Mace already been supplied to Germany? Did not the Minister of Defence on 20th December [1961] admit that nuclear warheads are allocated to Germans in N.A.T.O. as they are to the British? Since the warheads in time of emergency must be  stored near the missiles, would this not mean that they could be seized and used by German officers?”

Godber replies: “I am advised that this is definitely not so. There is no question of this happening. The security arrangements are strict and are stringently enforced, and I am sure that they would cover all eventualities.

(N.A.T.O. NUCLEAR WARHEADS; HC Deb 26 March 1962 cc834-5;

A few years later, Labour’s Stan Orme, who later himself became a defence minister asked the Prime Minister (Harold Wilson ) if he was aware that “for more than six years nuclear warheads have been mounted secretly on aircraft and missiles of West Germany and other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies;

Wilson responded: “No non-nuclear members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation have nuclear warheads under national control. The forces of a number of non-nuclear members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation are equipped with nuclear delivery vehicles. My information is that the warheads for these weapons are kept under strict United States custody and control at all times.

Orme followed up citing the New York Times; asking the prime Minister if he was aware that this statement, first published in the New York Times and subsequently in the British Press, has caused great concern, and will he give an assurance that in no circumstances will there be a German finger on the nuclear trigger? “

Harold Wilson retorted: “I am not responsible for what appears in the Press, whether it be the New York Times or any other newspaper. So far as the Question is concerned, the arrangements have always been known, …and certainly as far as these particular weapons are concerned there is no German finger on the trigger for the reason set out in my original Answer.

(NUCLEAR WARHEADS; HC Deb 30 November 1965 cc1234-5;

Labour MP John McFall, who later chaired the Treasury select Committee and is now a Labour peer, asked in March 1991 what review the MOD had “made of the safety of the existing designs and designs currently under development of nuclear warheads; what application of three-dimensional modelling has been used; and what reconsideration has resulted of the safety case for an actual nuclear explosion which might be accidentally or unintentionally initiated leading to the dispersal of radioactivity and/or a nuclear yield?”.

Defence minister Archie Hamilton said :” All of the United Kingdom's nuclear warheads are designed to meet stringent safety requirements. Before entering operational service, the designs are subject to a comprehensive series of trials and assessments, encompassing normal and credible abnormal environments of in-service life, and to formal safety approvals procedures, which are assessed independently. In addition, the United Kingdom conducts a continuous safety review of all operationally deployed designs by way of routine examination and sophisticated modelling.”(Nuclear Warheads; HC Deb 25 March 1991 c300W

Left Labour MP Llew Smith, now retired, for whom I did research for twenty odd years on security issues, asked in April 1995 whether the figures the MOD cited (oral answer, 28 March,Official Report, columns 817–18)  on future deployment of United Kingdom nuclear warheads include all existing categories of British land, sea and air-launched nuclear weapons presently deployed by the Untied Kingdom or allocated to NATO. [19335]

Churchill’s grandson, Defence minister Nicholas Soames answered: “The figures cited are for the total number of Untied Kingdom nuclear weapons, excluding only any awaiting final dismantlement.”


Annex A
Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence 7 March 2006


Annex B
  33.  Acquiring Trident gave the UK a greater nuclear weapons capability than it could ever have achieved on its own. This enhanced capacity, however, had significant consequences.
  34.  The fact that, in theory, the British Prime Minister could give the order to fire Trident missiles without getting prior approval from the White House has allowed the UK to maintain the fa├žade of being a global military power. In practice, though, it is difficult to conceive of any situation in which a Prime Minister would fire Trident without prior US approval. The USA would see such an act as cutting across its self-declared prerogative as the world's policeman, and would almost certainly make the UK pay a high price for its presumption. The fact that the UK is completely technically dependent on the USA for the maintenance of the Trident system means that one way the USA could show its displeasure would be to cut off the technical support needed for the UK to continue to send Trident to sea.
  35.  In practice, the only way that Britain is ever likely to use Trident is to give legitimacy to a US nuclear attack by participating in it. There are precedents for the USA using UK participation in this way for conventional military operations. The principal value of the UK's participation in the recent Iraq war was to help legitimise the US attack. Likewise the principal value of the firing of UK cruise missiles as part of the larger US cruise missile attack on Baghdad was to help legitimise the use of such weapons against urban targets.
  36.  The most likely scenario in which Trident would actually be used is that Britain would give legitimacy to a US nuclear strike by participating in it.
  37.  The well-established links between the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), in Omaha Nebraska and the UK's Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, London would facilitate the planning of such attacks. In a crisis the very existence of the UK Trident system might make it difficult for a UK prime minister to refuse a request by the US president to participate in an attack.
  38.  The UK Trident system is highly dependent, and for some purposes completely dependent, on the larger US system. The assembling of information available in the USA, but kept secret in Britain, by John Ainslie in his 2005 report The Future of the British bomb, shows how extensive this dependency is (see table below).
  39.  The UK's dependency on the USA has operational significance. For example, the UK's reliance on US weather data and on navigational data provided by the US Global Positioning System (GPS) means that, should the USA decide not to supply this data, the capacity of the UK's Trident missiles to hit targets would be degraded.
  40.  Conversely, the close relationship between US and UK systems also means that the upgrades to the US Trident system have already been incorporated into the UK Trident system. The Royal Navy's adoption of the new US fire control system has most likely already improved its capacity to retarget its Trident missiles rapidly in order to hit a range of targets outside Russia—thereby adding to other states' concerns that they could be the target of a combined US/UK Trident strike.
Degree of dependency
The UK warhead is a copy of the US W76 warhead.
Arming, fusing and firing system
This triggers the explosion. The model used in UK warheads was designed by the US Sandia Laboratory and is almost certainly procured from the USA.
High-explosive (HE)
This starts the nuclear explosion. The UK uses a different HE to the USA. Key explosives calculations for the US warhead cannot simply be duplicated so US labs assess the UK HE's long-term performance.
Neutron generator
This initiates nuclear fission. The neutron generator used in UK warheads is the MC4380, which is manufactured in the USA and acquired "off the shelf".
Gas reservoir
This supplies tritium to boost the fission process. It is most likely that the reservoir used in UK warheads is manufactured in the USA. UK gas reservoirs are filled with tritium in the USA.
Re-entry body shell
This is the cone-shaped body which contains the warhead. The UK purchases the Mark 4 re-entry body shell from the USA.
The D5 missile
The UK does not own its Trident missiles—they are leased from the USA. UK Trident submarines must regularly visit the US base at King's Bay, Georgia to return their missiles to the US stockpile for maintenance and replace them with others.
Guidance system
The Mark 6 guidance system used on the UK's Trident D5 missiles is designed and made in the USA by Charles Stark Draper Laboratories.
UK Vanguard-class Trident submarines are UK-made, but many aspects of the design are copied from US submarines and many components are bought from the USA.
The high accuracy of the Trident D5 missile depends on the submarine's position being precisely determined. This is achieved using two systems: GPS, which relies on satellites, and the Electrostatically Supported Giro Navigation System (ESGN), which uses gyroscopes. In both cases UK Trident submarines uses the same US system as the US Navy submarines. The USA has the ability to deny access to GPS at any time, rendering that form of navigation and targeting useless if the UK were to launch without US approval.
Target packages are designed and formatting tapes produced on shore, then stored on the submarine—using US software at each stage.
Onshore targeting
The software installed in the computers at the Nuclear Operations and Targeting Centre in London is based on US models and is probably derived from the US Navy's Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile Integrated Planning System.
Weather and gravity data
The US Navy supplies local gravitational information and forecasts of weather over targets, both of which are vital to high missile accuracy, to US and UK submarines.
Fire control system (FCS)
Used to assign targets to the warheads on the submarines. UK submarines carry a slightly different model to that on US submarines. However, all the hardware and software used by the system is US-produced. The hardware is produced by General Dynamics Defense Systems. The contracts show that the UK uses similar, if not quite identical, software.
British nuclear warheads are designed and made at Aldermaston near Reading. Aldermaston is part managed by the US corporation Lockheed Martin. Repairs to Britian's Trident submarine are carried out at Devonport, which is part managed by another US corporation, Halliburton.
Research and development
There is extensive cooperation between Aldermaston and America's nuclear weapon laboratories—Los Alamos in New Mexico and Sandia and Lawrence Livermore in California.
The W76 warhead was tested at the US nuclear test site in Nevada in the early 1990s. The UK has no test site of its own. The missiles are test launched from British submarines under US supervision at Cape Canaveral off the Florida coast. These tests are analysed by the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University and by the Charles Stark Draper Laboratories.
Note On Sources

Ainslie, John (2005) The future of the British bomb, WMD Awareness Programme.

Aldridge, Bob (2002) US Trident submarine and missile system: The ultimate first strike weapon, Pacific Life Research Center.

Butler, Nicola and Bromley, Mark (2001) The UK Trident system in the 21st century, British American Security Information Council.

Clarke, Michael (2004) "Does my bomb look big in this?", International Affairs, February.

Halliday, Fred (1987) The making of the Second Cold War, Verso.

Hare, Tim (2005) "What next for Trident?", RUSI Journal, April.

Kristensen, Hans and Norris, Robert (2005) "UK nuclear forces 2005", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 61:6, longer web version, available at—nn.php?art—ofn=nd05norris

Kristensen, Hans and Norris, Robert (2006) "US nuclear forces 2006", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 62:1, longer web version, available at—nn.php?art—ofn=jf06norris

Rai, Milan (1995) Tactical Trident: The Rifkind doctrine and the Third World, Drava Papers.

Rogers, Paul (1996) Sub-strategic Trident: A slow-burning fuse, London Centre for Defence Studies.

Spinardi, Graham (1994) From Polaris to Trident: The development of the US fleet ballistic missile technology, Cambridge University Press.

Greenpeace would like to thank the following for their help in the background research for this submission.

John Ainslie, Scottish CND

Bob Aldridge, Pacific Life Research Center

Frank Barnaby, Oxford Research Group

Hans Kristensen, Federation of American Scientists

Robert Norris, Natural Resources Defense Council

Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group

Milan Rai, Justice Not Vengeance

Paul Rogers, Bradford School of Peace Studies

Friday, 14 February 2020

Challenging the atomic incumbency

Here are two more letters to the Western Mail newspaper of Wales, and the London Times:

On the BBC Wales web site today (14th February) its Welsh business correspondent Brian Meechan runs an article that appears to be uncritically based on copious briefing provided by the pr  team of nuclear company Rolls Royce.

It suffers from many errors if omission.

Meechan purports to set out the case for bringing the first of a new generation of,  as yet untried,  experimental so- called “Small Modular Reactors” (SMRs) to the nuclear site at Trawsfynydd in Snowdonia, taking advantage of an area used to nuclear power, and with some skilled staff from the shutdown old “ Magnox” still around.

Although the “S” in SMR stands for small, while the reactor  module itself may be relatively small compared to the giant reactors being built at Hinkley, barely 20 miles from Wales in North Somerset, the necessary associated turbine generating sets to convert the heat to electricity are very large.

But most important, SMRs provide unique targets for terrorists to disrupt both power supplies, and destabilise the local community. Why so?

Because the salespeople first SMRs like to show images of sleek shiny plants with no or virtually no site protection against malevolent “ bad guys.
Anyone with a shoulder-held grenade launcher could fire a devastating high-energy deep-penetrator projectile into the heart of the reactor from just yards away. Astonishing, but true.
It is a mirage of safety and security offered by RR.

Why did the BBC not ask any penetrating questions themselves?

I was really surprised you afforded space in your letters columns The embittered communication from Lord Hutton of Furness  (“Labour’s failings,”  Feb 14).
As successively  Business Secretary - with responsibility for energy policy- and Defence Secretary, Lord Hutton was responsible for promoting two of the most expensive national infrastructure projects, nuclear new build and the Trident nuclear weapons renewal programme.

The costs of both have escalated stratospherically:  a  nuclear power plant is estimated to cost at least £25,000,000,000 per plant; the cost to the taxpayer for Trident renewal over its operational life is currently calculated to be some £205,000,000,000.

I think as Labour choses its new leader, and in time formulates new policies to mount an effective challenge to the incumbent Tory administration, the last person the leadership should listen to is a discredited, failed former Labour grandee.

Lord Hutton  now chairs the Nuclear Industry Association Libby group and the Royal United Services Institute think tank as a reward for his nuclear promotions as a minister.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Nuclear disarmament opportunity beckons.. as Boris Johnson ducks GBH conspiracy charge

I have been absent from blogging for nearly a month for a major cancer  operation and hospitalization Thanks to the marvelous NHS and its multinational care service, am home again, recuperating: Hers are two as yet unpublished letters I wrote from my hospital bed:

Regarding “A plea to Save The Last Nuclear Arms Treaty” (New York Times, Feb10, 2020) by two very distinguished and experienced American and Russian former high level executive diplomats, I agree the upcoming  quinquennial review conference of the 190 states parties to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) Is a prime opportunity to consolidate progress in establishing  a new strategic arms START ) treaty.

But I would go further: strategic nuclear arms are also deployed by three other parties to the NPT-  China, France and U.K.- albeit in far fewer numbers.

The NPT review should be the ideal opportunity for the nuclear arsenals of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council to be entered into collective multilateral negotiations.

Thereafter, the atomic arsenals of India, Pakistan North Korea and Israel could be addressed in a second negotiating pact.


When our PM facilitated GBH on a fellow journalist

Your report (“Tory activist jailed for saying he was ‘organising to hurt Yvette Cooper’” 8 February) as amplified in the House of Commons chamber on Monday ( “Apology to Cooper over threats by convicted activist,” 11Feb) reminds me of a similar case several years ago. It involved a Brussels-based Telegraph journalist being asked by a friend whose nefarious financial affairs were being investigated by a News of the World reporter, to help him frighten off the reporter.
(Guardian interview, 14 July 2019)

 The Telegraph journalist was prevailed upon to pass on details of where the NOW reporter lived, so thugs could be sent around and put the frighteners on to ward him off further digging.

A tape recording of the Telegraph journalist’s discussion with his friend exists. After clarifying the planned warn- off assault would not be too damaging ( maybe a few broken ribs) he agreed to facilitate the GBH on a fellow journalist.

The Telegraph reporter went on to make his name in politics. He is now Prime Minister.

Mr Corbyn rightly raised this shameful incident with our shameless prime minister at PMQs on Wednesday.

It should have been brought up multiple timed in the recent General Election.

Thugs who masquerade as buffoons diminish the high office  of prime minister.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

As EU goes cold on new nuclear, barbarian Brexit Britain hots up on a failed technology

On Tuesday (14 January) the EU’s regional policy Commissioner Elisa Ferreira revealed ( details of the €100 billion Just Transition Mechanism, a key financial component of the European Green Deal that should make the European Union climate neutral by 2050. One key  political point made by Ferreira was: “Nuclear energy is excluded from the Just Transition Mechanism.” She revealed this very significant development ahead of the college meeting of the European Commission that approved the proposal for the fund aimed at supporting poorer EU regions achieve climate neutrality.

EU leaders had earlier agreed in December on an EU-wide objective of reaching climate neutrality by 2050. In order to convince Hungary and the Czech Republic to sign up, they also reaffirmed the right of countries to decide on their own energy mix, including nuclear. (Poland refused to sign up, saying it needed more EU funding to help phase out coal.)

The Just Transition Fund is intended to support regions that will be particularly affected by the changes brought by ‘greening’ the economy. (Euractiv 14 January 2020

On the same day in London, as the UK approaches its return to the deep dark ages post Brexit, the nuclear Neanderthals were out en masse in a House of Lords  Q&A session on the future of nuclear power and climate change.

One of the beneficial characteristics of an unelected House of Lords was meant to be you could create peers who were expert in their field to better inform scrutiny and debate. You would not  believe it if you read the collective ignorance on display from peers today on nuclear power, pasted in full below…


Here are some of the low lights:


“Nuclear power ..will have an important role in securing a low-cost, stable, reliable low-carbon system by 2050.” – Energy minister Lord Duncan


I know—that we are never going to meet our carbon targets without a significant contribution from nuclear energy” -  Lord Cunningham, former MP for Copland, in which Sellafield is located


“Nuclear will be a vital part, I believe, of the ongoing energy mix in this country.” – Lord Duncan

“the reality is that small modular reactors are vital. ,,,This may well be how we can move forward a whole new generation of nuclear electricity generation.” Lord Duncan

“nuclear energy is obviously essential to enabling us to combat climate change”- Labour Baroness Whittaker


“we have to ensure the development of the small modular reactors, which we believe will be key to the development of a workable global strategy.” – Lord Duncan


I offer no further comment on their utter and crass idiocy.



Nuclear Power: Emissions


14 January 2020


2.37 pm

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the nuclear power capacity required to meet their target of net zero emissions by 2050.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare my interest as an engineer in the energy industry, as set out in the register.

My Lords, a substantial increase in low-carbon generation will be needed to reduce our emissions to net zero by 2050. Nuclear power currently provides a fifth of our generation and will have an important role in securing a low-cost, stable, reliable low-carbon system by 2050. The Government will publish an energy White Paper in 2020, which will provide further detail of the necessary transformation of our energy system.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. Our current nuclear fleet is approaching the end of its working life and only a single new station is being built. We need much more than that to provide additional zero-carbon firm power and reduce the risk of not meeting net zero by 2050. Does the Minister agree that a key means of doing this at least cost is to focus on replication: building a number of the same design to learn lessons and gain efficiencies, rather than using a wide range of designs, as per the previous strategy? Can he confirm that the Government are prioritising a decision on the financing of new nuclear to enable the industry to move forward?

The simple answer to that question is yes, but more details are required. The first thing to remember is that by 2030 all but one nuclear power station will be closed.

The noble Lord’s second point is correct: we do need replication on a common theme to help us, but there are other factors too, not least of which is experienced management in the construction industry and sometimes constructing nuclear reactors in greater numbers on the same site. Each of these can make a significant difference, and in order for us to increase capacity we need, in the energy White Paper, to give serious consideration to them, at which point the decision-making will be made clear.


My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s statement strongly in support of civil nuclear power. It is quite obvious to most people—not to everyone, I know—that we are never going to meet our carbon targets without a significant contribution from nuclear energy. For the first time in a generation we have the opportunity now, at Sizewell C, to use the learning curve and replication of design and construction to bring down costs and possibly the timescale involved in building the second nuclear power station, much more than the last Labour Government did, I must say—to my regret; I do not know about theirs. I hope the Minister will persuade his colleagues that we need to expedite these developments.

We must expedite these developments. The nuclear sector deal which the Government have invested in is worth £200 million. Its purpose is to reduce significantly the costs of the replication of these new developments, and the regulated asset base should be a new model for us to make sure that there is value for money as well. Nuclear will be a vital part, I believe, of the ongoing energy mix in this country.


My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend’s brief really reflects the full position. After all, Hinkley is now £3 billion over budget and delayed by a year or two, Wylfa has been suspended, Moorside has been abandoned, and the Chinese and French are struggling to raise finance for Sizewell C. It is not a very good picture. Should we not be focusing rather more on prospects for small modular reactors, which can be built much more quickly, and perhaps more cheaply, and might make an even bigger contribution when it comes to global climate change, which is the real problem?

My noble friend is, of course, absolutely correct. If we get to the stage where Hinkley comes online according to its timetable in 2025, it will in due course supply 7% of our electricity needs. However, the reality is that small modular reactors are vital. That is why we have invested £18 million in development thus far—£18 million that is matched by the private sector. This may well be how we can move forward a whole new generation of nuclear electricity generation.

My Lords, I think all your Lordships will welcome the fact that an energy White Paper is going to be published. This country has lacked a joined-up strategy on energy for many years. Can the Minister confirm that this White Paper will include not only generation of all kinds but the storage of energy and the flexible, or more flexible, distribution of energy? Clearly those will be key in how we go forward.

The noble Lord has raised these points before; he was right then and is right now. Storage is absolutely vital in this area. Without it, we run the risk not just in nuclear but in our renewables more widely that we cannot capture and hold the energy that we create. Storage needs to be in the White Paper.

My Lords, nuclear energy is obviously essential to enabling us to combat climate change, as my noble friend Lord Cunningham just said, but what are the Government doing to enable the public to move away from the other fossil fuel, gas, which is so widely used in domestic heating?

There will also be a strategy next year examining gas in the domestic heating system. There are options available to us and decisions will be required. Shall it be electrification, use of hydrogen, or indeed a hybrid of the two? We need to consider that, and the White Paper will help inform our decisions going forward.

My Lords, what discussions has my noble friend had with friends and partners internationally on the potential for using UK nuclear expertise and technology in the fight to deal with climate change?

As part of my responsibilities as Climate Change Minister, we have engaged with a number of countries to examine what prospects we have to ensure the development of the small modular reactors, which we believe will be key to the development of a workable global strategy. We commit to continuing to do that at a greater pace.

How will the Government ensure that any new offshore wind capacity during the 2020s will not simply replace retiring nuclear plants rather than push carbon-emitting gas power plants off the grid?


The noble Lord is quite right: each of our ambitions in these areas has a finite lifespan, and it is important to make sure that, each time we replace them with the next generation, the carbon footprint decreases. We would like to see it significantly decrease, which is why offshore wind remains vital and why nuclear has a significant part to play.

My Lords, the Wylfa project on Anglesey has been suspended, as we have heard. Would my noble friend agree that it is clear that Governments will need to invest in new nuclear? Will the Government look at promoting that project with Hitachi through a government commitment to invest sovereign capital, thereby reducing the cost of capital and offsetting some of the risk?

Yes, indeed. We will be looking at exactly this through the regulated asset base approach. The Wylfa site is at the moment still owned by Hitachi. There are still opportunities to build on that site, and we are in discussions to make sure that we can move this matter forward.

In considering the position of the small modular reactors, can the Minister give an undertaking that the medical dimension will be taken on board so that any possible synergy between the development of the two can take place, possibly at Trawsfynydd?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. We often think of nuclear only in terms of energy generation, but in fact our health service depends significantly upon the isotopes that are created by the system. Yes, we need to recognise the synergy and work with it.

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Financing the green transition: The European Green Deal Investment Plan and Just Transition Mechanism

Press release14 January 2020, Brussels

The European Union is committed to becoming the first climate-neutral bloc in the world by 2050. This requires significant investment from both the EU and the national public sector, as well as the private sector. The European Green Deal's Investment Plan - the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan - presented today will mobilise public investment and help to unlock private funds through EU financial instruments, notably InvestEU, which would lead to at least €1 trillion of investments.

While all Member States, regions and sectors will need to contribute to the transition, the scale of the challenge is not the same. Some regions will be particularly affected and will undergo a profound economic and social transformation. The Just Transition Mechanism will provide tailored financial and practical support to help workers and generate the necessary investments in those areas.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “People are at the core of the European Green Deal, our vision to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050. The transformation ahead of us is unprecedented. And it will only work if it is just - and if it works for all. We will support our people and our regions that need to make bigger efforts in this transformation, to make sure that we leave no one behind. The Green Deal comes with important investment needs, which we will turn into investment opportunities. The plan that we present today, to mobilise at least €1 trillion, will show the direction and unleash a green investment wave.”

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said: “The necessary transition towards climate-neutrality is going to improve people's well-being and make Europe more competitive. But it will require more efforts from citizens, sectors and regions that rely more on fossil fuels than others. The Just Transition Mechanism will help support those most affected by making investments more attractive and proposing a package of financial and practical support worth at least €100 billion. This is our pledge of solidarity and fairness.”

Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, added: “For Europe to transition to a climate-neutral economy, we need both political commitment and massive investments. The Green Deal shows our determination to tackle climate change, which we are now backing up with a funding plan. First, we will use the EU budget to leverage private funds for green projects across Europe and support the regions and people most affected by transition. Second, we will create the right regulatory incentives for green investments to thrive. Last but not least, we will help public authorities and market players to identify and develop such projects. The European Union was not built in a day. A Green Europe will not happen overnight. Putting sustainability at the heart of how we invest requires a change of mindset. We have taken an important step towards achieving this today.”

The European Green Deal Investment Plan

The European Green Deal Investment Plan will mobilise EU funding and create an enabling framework to facilitate and stimulate the public and private investments needed for the transition to a climate-neutral, green, competitive and inclusive economy. Complementing other initiatives announced under the Green Deal, the Plan is based on three dimensions:

  • Financing: mobilising at least €1 trillion of sustainable investments over the next decade. A greater share of spending on climate and environmental action from the EU budget than ever before will crowd in private funding, with a key role to be played by the European Investment Bank.
  • Enabling: providing incentives to unlock and redirect public and private investment. The EU will provide tools for investors by putting sustainable finance at the heart of the financial system, and will facilitate sustainable investment by public authorities by encouraging green budgeting and procurement, and by designing ways to facilitate procedures to approve State Aid for just transition regions.
  • Practical support: the Commission will provide support to public authorities and project promoters in planning, designing and executing sustainable projects.

The Just Transition Mechanism

The Just Transition Mechanism (JTM) is a key tool to ensure that the transition towards a climate-neutral economy happens in a fair way, leaving no one behind. While all regions will require funding and the European Green Deal Investment Plan caters for that, the Mechanism provides targeted support to help mobilise at least €100 billion over the period 2021-2027 in the most affected regions, to alleviate the socio-economic impact of the transition. The Mechanism will create the necessary investment to help workers and communities which rely on the fossil fuel value chain. It will come in addition to the substantial contribution of the EU's budget through all instruments directly relevant to the transition.

The Just Transition Mechanism will consist of three main sources of financing:

1)   A Just Transition Fund, whichwill receive €7.5 billion of fresh EU funds, coming on top of the Commission's proposal for the next long-term EU budget. In order to tap into their share of the Fund, Member States will, in dialogue with the Commission, have to identify the eligible territories through dedicated territorial just transition plans. They will also have to commit to match each euro from the Just Transition Fund with money from the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund Plus and provide additional national resources. Taken together, this will provide between €30 and €50 billion of funding, which will mobilise even more investments. The Fund will primarily provide grants to regions. It will, for example, support workers to develop skills and competences for the job market of the future and help SMEs, start-ups and incubators to create new economic opportunities in these regions. It will also support investments in the clean energy transition, for example in energy efficiency.

2)   A dedicated just transition scheme under InvestEU to mobilise up to €45 billion of investments. It will seek to attract private investments, including in sustainable energy and transport that benefit those regions and help their economies find new sources of growth. 

3)   A public sector loan facility with the European Investment Bank backed by the EU budget to mobilise between €25 and €30 billion of investments. It will be used for loans to the public sector, for instance for investments in district heating networks and renovation of buildings. The Commission will come with a legislative proposal to set this up in March 2020.

The Just Transition Mechanism is about more than funding: relying on a Just Transition Platform, the Commission will be providing technical assistance to Member States and investors and make sure the affected communities, local authorities, social partners and non-governmental organisations are involved. The Just Transition Mechanism will include a strong governance framework centred on territorial just transition plans.


On 11 December 2019, the Commission presented the European Green Deal, with the ambition of becoming the first climate-neutral bloc in the world by 2050. Europe's transition to a sustainable economy means significant investment efforts across all sectors: reaching the current 2030 climate and energy targets will require additional investments of €260 billion a year by 2030.

The success of the European Green Deal Investment Plan will depend on the engagement of all actors involved. It is vital that Member States and the European Parliament maintain the high ambition of the Commission proposal during the negotiations on the upcoming financial framework. A swift adoption of the proposal for a Just Transition Fund Regulation will be crucial.

The Commission will closely monitor and evaluate the progress on this transition path. As part of these efforts, every year the Commission will hold a Sustainable Investment Summit, involving all relevant stakeholders, and it will continue to work for promoting and financing the transition. The Commission invites the investment community to make full use of the enabling regulatory conditions and ever-growing needs for sustainable investments, and authorities to take an active role in identifying and promoting such investments.

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