Friday, 13 July 2018

Trump's Atomic Aversion

Letter to The Guardian:

I agree with Owen Jones’ litany of charges against President Trump’s policies and Donald J. Trump’s many character failures and downright bigoted ideas (“Protest against what Donald Trump represents, not who he is,” 12 July;

But I disagree with one charge made against his presidential position on nuclear weapons, and disagree with CND - as the leading campaign against nuclear weapons- who have decided to join the demonstrations against the president’s visit to the UK.

At his extraordinary press conference at NATO HQ on Thursday, Mr Trump said the dream outcome for him for his bilateral summit with President Putin in Helsinki on Monday would be to agree to achieve a world without nuclear weapons (just as his Republican predecessor present Ronald Reagan did with his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, at the path-breaking nuclear summit in Reykjavik in 1986, to the horror of the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher

Many anti-Trump campaigners assume erroneously Trump is in favour of nuclear weapons, but a look at the documented facts demonstrates he has long opposed them. He is, to be sure, in favour of a very strong US military and of a fully-funded NATO (which currently is a nuclear-armed alliance), but is against nuclear weapons.

On 15 December 2015 Trump said “The biggest problem we have is nuclear—nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That's in my opinion that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.”

An article published in US news web site, Slate (which  resurrects an interview originally given to the author, Ron Rosenbaum,  nearly three decades ago for the now defunct magazine, Manhattan Inc.) provides an extraordinary insight into a long-standing ‘atomic aversion’ held by Trump.(“Trump’s Nuclear Experience: In 1987, he set out to solve the world’s biggest problem,”
Donald Trump with his finger on the nuclear trigger. Donald Trump with the nuclear “football,” the so-called black briefcase of doom, always within rea ...

Rosenbaum noted: ““Trump is not new to nuclear matters. He has been thinking about how he’d handle nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation for more than a quarter-century, at least since 1987, when he claimed to me that he was “dealing at a very high level” with people in the White House (that would have been the Reagan White House) on doomsday questions.”

He added: “Trump wanted to begin a crusade to find a way to halt a national security policy based on nuclear mutually assured destruction (MAD) “before a wild-card nuke deals death to millions.”

I wonder if none of these maverick - but sane - Trump views ever gets an airing in the British media, because they contradict a simplistic stereotype view of Trump.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Radioactive experiments on nuclear workers re-visited

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the foundation of our rightly celebrated National Health Service. But as we have discovered over the recent case of  opiate overdoses at Gosport Hospital , not everything done in the name of the NHS I has been beneficial to national health . Here is another worrying case, reported by the Observer 11 years ago, based on papers I discovered at the National Archives at Kew , in sw London.

Revealed: UK nuclear tests on workers
Sellafield memos uncover fears over legality of making volunteers drink radioactive isotopes
Workers at Sellafield, the nuclear plant at the centre of the missing body parts scandal, were subjected to secret Cold War experiments in which they were exposed to radiation, The Observer can reveal. One experiment, described in a confidential memo, involved volunteers drinking doses of caesium 134, a radioactive isotope that was released in fatal quantities following the Chernobyl disaster. Other experiments involved exposing volunteers to uranium, strontium 85, iodine 132 and plutonium.
The revelation raises questions over whether the volunteers suffered early deaths or illness due to their exposure.
The experiments, which started in the Sixties, were considered so controversial that Sellafield drew up a covert PR strategy to deflect possible media attention.
Documents obtained by The Observer show that the experiments on the organs of the dead workers at Sellafield were being conducted at the same time as government scientists were using volunteer employees at the plant as guinea pigs.
The papers, which also refer to experiments being conducted on staff at Dounreay and Winfrith nuclear power stations, and at the nuclear research centre at Harwell, highlight deep misgivings among the government's senior advisers about going ahead with the trials.
A letter to Sellafield's then senior medical officer, Dr GB Schofield, from KP Duncan, the government's chief medical officer, dated 12 February 1965, states that 'any plan to deal with patients should be discussed with the legal branch before things get that far'. Duncan expresses surprise that work on the experiments has 'already started' and expresses 'genuine points for concern'.
According to the documents, only those over 18 and 'of sound mind' could volunteer for the experiments following a medical examination. They defined what the scientists believed were safe exposure limits for the volunteers. However, a paper drawn up in 1965 by the UK Atomic Energy Authority, the government body that oversees civil nuclear production and clean-ups, acknowledges there were serious risks with the experiments. It suggests that if 'a person volunteering to take part in the experiments subsequently developed ill-effects which could be shown to be due to his exposure, either voluntary or involuntary, he would have right of action for damages against the Authority'.
Geoff Dolphin, the then secretary of the government's Radiobiology Research Panel, is recorded in another memo, written in May 1962, observing 'it could be argued, to take an extreme view if something went wrong, that one had actually committed an offence'.
Dr David Lowry, a nuclear expert who uncovered the documents, said they showed there had been an alarming culture of secrecy within the British nuclear industry at the time. 'These documents place a large question mark against official reassurances given by the nuclear industry to successive public inquiries,' Lowry said. 'We need to know when these experiments ended and how many people were involved.'
One memo from the government's Medical Research Council Radiobiological Unit, written in 1962, describes the need to experiment on three types of volunteer: 'pregnant women and all persons under 18'; 'patients with non-fatal illnesses and volunteers'; and 'patients in hospitals and volunteers who are undergoing tests under appropriate medical supervision with regard to any possible effects from radiation'.
The document suggests that the recommended limit for a volunteer's exposure to radiation could be exceeded 'in exceptional cases, for example patients with fatal illnesses and research workers who are well informed about the risk from ionizing radiations'.
Another document, marked 'Official Use Only', states: 'The question arises whether the fact that the [Atomic Energy] Authority are now starting such experiments should be publicly announced... on balance it would be preferable for our public relations staff to be briefed with material for use only if the experiments become public knowledge.'
Greenpeace's Jean McSorely said the human experiments were yet more evidence of the nuclear industry's 'bizarre and unsettling' behaviour during the Sixties. 'We know they experimented with discharging radioactive liquid into the seas during the Fifties. So it's maybe not that surprising they decided to experiment on humans, too.'
A spokesman for BNFL, the company that now runs Sellafield, declined to comment while the independent investigation into the removal of organs from bodies of former workers at the plant was still under way.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

How US-UK Mutual Defense Agreement undermines global nuclear non -proliferation strategy

On 3 July 1958 the United States Government signed a bilateral agreement with the UK, the effect of which has for sixty years to completely undermine the moral authority of Washington and London to preach to atomic aspirant countries that nuclear weapons are bad for national security; and civilian nuclear activities should be kept separate from any military uses.

This deal - often called the US-UK Mutual Defense Agreement (MDA) on atomic energy matters (in which the word defence is spelled with an ‘s’, even in the official UK Treaty series version, indicating its political provenance) – is the agreement that provided the underpinning framework for the subsequent  Polaris and Trident  nuclear  weapons of mass destruction deals with US, as well as facilitating the testing of British nuclear warheads in Nevada, after the 1963 partial  nuclear test ban treaty halted the atmospheric testing of nuclear explosive devices. (

The MDA was signed in the  wake of  three key  security technology developments towards the end of 1957: the successful launch of the  first Sputnik  satellite by the Soviet Union  on 4 October 1957; the accidental fire and radiological contamination arising from the Windscale weapons plutonium production  ‘Pile” at Sellafield on 8-10 October; and the UK successfully testing a hydrogen bomb in the Operation Grapple test on 8 November 1957.

The other politically interesting thing about the MDA is hardly anybody has ever heard of it, including most involved in nuclear disarmament campaigning, even though a group of researchers from the Scientists Against Nuclear Arms (SANA) group – now renamed Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) – presented detailed evidence on the MDA and plutonium misuse on behalf of CND to the Sizewell B nuclear public inquiry in 1984.

(Investigative journalist Rob Edwards, who co-ordinated the Sizewell Working Group for CND, subsequently wrote an insightful 32 page pamphlet, ‘Nuclear Power, Nuclear Weapons: the Deadly Connection’, which CND published in august 1985)

The political context of the MDA is complex. It was developed in  late 1957, after the Eisenhower Administration recognized the  post war  so-called ‘McMahon’ Atomic Energy Act ( named after its Brien McMahon sponsoring senator , who chaired the Senate Committee on Atomic Energy ), draconian legislation that excluded all the US’s wartime allies,  who had collaborated at Los Alamos and elsewhere on  developing world’s first nuclear  explosive device, from being able to share nuclear secrets in peacetime, even in its amended form from 1954, was no longer supporting America’s national security interests

The Wikipedia summary account of what   happened next reads as follows:

While the British knew what they wanted, there was no consensus among the Americans as to what they wanted to provide. The United States Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was concerned that a special relationship with Britain might complicate the United States' relationships with its other allies. Strauss in particular felt that a proposal to give hydrogen bomb secrets to the British would likely not get past the JCAE, and counselled drafting amendments that were sufficiently vague as to give the president the authority he needed without arousing its ire. Eisenhower declared that the US and UK were "interdependent", and pledged to ask Congress to amend the McMahon Act. Crucially, he managed to secure the support of Carl T. Durham, the chairman of the influential Joint Congressional Committee eon Atomic Energy (JCAE). Eisenhower met with Congressional leaders on 3 December 1957, and pressed for more discretion to cooperate with all America's NATO allies, and not just Britain. Indeed the administration negotiated agreements with Australia, Canada and NATO. While Eisenhower did not yet have wholehearted support for the proposal, outright opposition from Senator Clinton P. Anderson failed to attract much support. On 27 January 1958, Strauss sent Durham the administration's proposed legislative changes, and the JCAE Subcommittee on Agreements for Cooperation, chaired by Senator John O. Pastore, held hearings from 29 to 31 January. Quarles and Major General Herbert Loper, the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy Affairs, were forced to deal with pointed questions about nuclear proliferation. British information security, or the lack thereof, no longer seemed so important now that the Soviet Union was apparently ahead, and the United Kingdom had independently developed the hydrogen bomb, but the JCAE objected to the terms of the proposed deal to trade British uranium-235 for American plutonium, under which the US would pay the UK $30 per gram for plutonium that cost $12 per gram to produce.

The amendments were passed by the House of Representatives on 19 June, but not without changes. It now limited exchanges of nuclear weapons data to nations that had made substantial progress in the field. The same restriction applied to the actual transfer of non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons. American nuclear weapons were to remain under US custody and could only be turned over to allies in the event of war. The sale of nuclear reactors for submarines and nuclear fuel for them and other military reactors was permitted. Only Britain qualified as a nation that had made substantial progress. The bill passed Congress on 30 June 1958, and was signed into law by Eisenhower on 2 July 1958. The 1958 US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement was signed by Dulles and Samuel Hood, the British Minister in Washington, on 3 July 1958, and approved by Congress on 30 July 1958.”

[The MDA was subsequently further amended in May of 1959,  to allow direct transfer of special nuclear material” (ie nuclear explosives) between the UK and US.]

An extremely detailed 340-page book by Professor emeritus John Simpson, titled ‘The Independent Nuclear State: the United States, Britain and the Military Atom,’ was published by MacMillan Press in 1983, and described the preceding and subsequent courses of events, and remains the most authoritative documented account of the MDA and its  political and strategic implications.

The 1958 MDA hearings (;view=1up;seq=1) in Congress provided significant substance for Professor Simpson’s magisterial scholarly study. Below I reproduce some telling extracts:

Lewis L Strauss, chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, told the JCAE that the desired collaboration with the UK :

It would assist their civilian program primarily, but this is not primarily to assist those programs. This is primarily to supply plutonium to us for our unrestricted use, at present, our military use.” (emphasis added)

“It necessitates making arrangements, as far as such can be negotiated, for making the most effective use of reactor products obtainable from our allies.

Atomic Energy Commissioner Vance: “We are now proposing to furnish weapons for the defense of these [Euratom] countries and those weapons are going to require plutonium. It seems to me this is thoroughly consistent …. ( redaction of classified discussion] ….that if  we are going to supply weapons to be located on their territory for their defense –that the plutonium which they produce  and sell to us could be use dfo rmakingthe very weapons they  want.”

(The State Department, recognising the diplomatic danger that this would compromise the civilian aim of the US ‘Atoms for Peace’ program, initiated in December 1953 by President Eisenhower in a celebrated speech to the United Nations, objected, and  the proposal was dropped for Euratom countries and  Japan, an Atoms for Peace recipient of US  nuclear assistance, as well as Australia and Canada. But the UK was neither in Euratom at that time, nor was part of the Atoms for Peace program, having launched its own in the early 1940s, so could fulfill a key role in nuclear explosive supplies.)

Following a visit to Washington DC  on 7-8 June 1958 of British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, barely a week after the JCAE hearing were completed, during which he pressed Congress to swiftly agree to the amended Atomic Energy Act, the MDA was duly completed.

Back in Britain, the Government  was preparing to slowly unveil the implications of the deal being done in Washington for the UK . The first public hint came with a public announcement on 17 June 1958 by the Ministry of Defence, on:

 “the production of  plutonium suitable for weapons in the new [nuclear ] power stations programme as an insurance against  future defence needs…”

in the UK’s  first generation Magnox (after the fuel type, magnesium oxide) reactor.

A week later in the UK Parliament, Labour Roy Mason, who incidentally later became Defence Secretary, asked  (Hansard 24 June 1958 vol 590 cc246-8246) why Her Majesty's Government had:


“decided to modify atomic power stations, primarily planned for peaceful purposes, to

produce high-grade plutonium for war weapons; to what extent this will interfere with the atomic power programme; and if he will make a statement.?”

to be  informed by the Paymaster General, Reginald Maudling

“At the request of the Government, the Central Electricity Generating Board has agreed to a small modification in the design of Hinkley Point and of the next two stations in its programme so as to enable plutonium suitable for military purposes to be extracted should the need arise.

The modifications will not in any way impair the efficiency of the stations. As the initial capital cost and any additional operating costs that may be incurred will be borne by the Government, the price of electricity will not be affected.

The Government made this request in order to provide the country, at comparatively small cost, with a most valuable insurance against possible future defence requirements. The cost of providing such insurance by any other means would be extremely heavy.”

This was challenged by Mr Mason, who asked:

“Is the Paymaster-General aware that, as far as I am concerned, it is a disgusting imposition on what was primarily termed a peaceful programme in nuclear energy? Of course, I am pleased to hear that it does not interfere with the atomic energy programme prepared by the Government—although I accept that with some measure of reservation? Was this really necessary, in view of the fact that we are producing, perhaps at a slow rate, plutonium from our present]—although we are producing plutonium from our present….Particularly having regard to the fact that the Dounreay atomic breeder is coming into production very soon, was this imposition on our peaceful atomic power programme really necessary?

The minister retorted:

“The hon. Gentleman says that it is an imposition. The only imposition on the country would have arisen if the Government had met our defence requirements for plutonium by means far more expensive than those proposed in this suggestion.”

The headline story in the Bridgwater Mercury, serving the community around Hinkley, on that day (24 June) was:

“MILITARY PLUTONIUM To be manufactured at Hinkley”

The article explained:

“An ingenious method has been designed  for changing the plant without  reducing the output of electricity…”

CND was reported to be critical, describing this as a “distressing step” insisting

 “The Government is obsessed with a nuclear militarism which seems insane.”

The left wing Tribune magazine of 27 June 1958 was very critical of the deal under the headline ‘Sabotage in the Atom Stations’:

“For the sake of making more nuclear weapons, the Government  has  dealt a heavy blow at the development of atomic power stations.

And  warned:

“Unless this disastrous decision is reversed, we shall  pay  dearly in more  ways than  one for the sacrifice  made on the grim alter of the H-bomb.”

This was no coincidence: the late Michael Foot, that great inveterate peace-monger, who later became Labour leader, was then the Tribune editor.

Then, on 3 July 1958, the United Kingdom and United States signed the detailed agreement on co-operation on nuclear weapons development, after several months of  Congressional  hearings in Washington DC, but no oversight whatsoever in the UK Parliament!  The failure of Parliament to at least appraise the security merits of this key bilateral atomic arrangement  was utterly unconscionable.

A month later Mr Maudling told backbencher Alan Green MP in Parliament that:

“Three nuclear power stations are being modified, but whether they will ever be used to produce military grade plutonium will be for decision later and will depend on defence requirements. The first two stations, at Bradwell and Berkeley, are not being modified and the decision to modify three subsequent stations was taken solely as a precaution for defence purposes.”


“It in no way reflects any change in the assessment of the economics of the British nuclear power stations, and there is therefore no reason whatever why the sale abroad of British nuclear equipment should be in any way affected.”

(Hansard 1 August 1958 vol 592 cc228-9W228W)


Some eleven months later, Mr Maudling told Tory back bencher, Wing Commander Eric Bullus - who had asked the Paymaster-General what change there has been in the intention to modify three nuclear power stations to enable plutonium suitable for military use to be extracted should the need arise.

“Last year Her Majesty's Government asked the Central Electricity Generating Board to make a small modification in the design of certain power stations to enable plutonium suitable for military purposes to be extracted if need should arise. Having taken into account recent developments, including the latest agreement with the United States, and having re-assessed the fissile material which will become available for military purposes from all sources, it has been decided to restrict the modifications to one power station, namely, Hinkley Point.” (emphasis added)

(Hansard, 22 June 1959 vol 607 cc847-9 848)


Between 5,440 and 7,000 kiligrammes of  plutonium form nominally civilian British Magnox reactors was subsequently bartered with the US under the MDA provisions for use in the US in ‘defense’ programs (New Statesman, 15 May 2006,


A nuclear warhead  usually contains around 5 kilogrammes of plutonium.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Nuclear threat to sustainable energy future

A key message from the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC’s) 267-page annual report 2018 (Reducing UK emissions – 2018 Progress Report to Parliament) is found at p.71, published on 28 June, which reads:

"If new nuclear projects were not to come forward, it is likely that renewables would be able to be deployed on shorter timescales and at lower cost."[my emphasis] (

But you would not find this very important assessment in the British media coverage. Why might this be?

Perhaps because on the day before, the UK Government published its  long-trailed so-called ‘Nuclear Industry Sector Deal’(, on which the  media clearly had been well briefed in advance.

The key message from this BEIS policy announcement, backed by a suite of documents, may be summarised by reference to Business Secretary Greg Clark’s comments at the official launch:

“The UK is the home of civil nuclear technology and with this investment in innovation and our commitment to increasing diversity in an already highly-skilled workforce, I want to ensure we remain the world leader.

Nuclear energy not only fuels our power supply, it fuels local jobs, wages, economic prosperity and drives UK innovation. This Sector Deal marks an important moment for the government and industry to work collectively to deliver the modern Industrial Strategy, drive clean growth and ensure civil nuclear remains an important part of the UK’s energy future.”

Here are some other interesting extracts on nuclear’s role and renewables’ capacity possibilities from the CCC report to MPs and peers.

Power generation. The Government's plans to decarbonise UK power generation to below100 gCO2 per kWh by 2030 rely to a high degree on new nuclear build and net imports across interconnectors, both of which have associated risks. These risks should be mitigated by actions aimed at improving the route to market for low-carbon electricity generation, especially low-cost options (i.e. onshore wind and solar), and by contracting for addition allow-carbon generation.

New power sector scenarios

In our Power Sector Scenarios for the Fifth Carbon Budget report in 2015, we identified an emissions intensity of under 100 gCO2/kWh in 2030 as the cost-effective path to the 2050 target. This was based on continuing the strong progress the UK has made in power sector decarbonisation in the 2010s with low-cost deployment of onshore wind, solar and possibly nuclear, alongside programmes of offshore wind and CCS in the 2020s, where UK deployment can be expected to be important in reducing the costs of these technologies.

Since that report, there have been developments that affect the prospects for the deployment of low-carbon capacity:

Renewable costs have fallen rapidly. The most recent auctions for 'established' technologies procured contracts for offshore wind at around £62/MWh for delivery in the early 2020s - in line with prices elsewhere in Europe but 40% below where we had expected the cost of the technology would be by 2030. Although there have been no UK auctions to reveal the cost for onshore wind or solar, these are also widely understood to have fallen significantly (Figure 2.6).26

Significant delays in CCS deployment. In November 2015, the Government cancelled the CCS Commercialisation Programme, meaning that the two initial CCS plants in our commercialisation pathway will not be delivered.

Limited progress in new nuclear. The aim is for the Hinkley Point C plant to commission in 2025, but limited progress has been made with other new nuclear projects, aside from the recent announcements around the Wylfa nuclear plant. Site development and regulatory approval milestones have been passed, though formal negotiations have only just begun with one developer, raising questions over the likelihood of several new nuclear plants commissioning before 2030, beyond the Hinkley Point C project.
Continued power sector decarbonisation is likely to be no more expensive than alternative pathways for the power sector, such as increased gas generation paying a market carbon price in the UK or importing electricity from abroad (Box 2.2). The Government's existing plans can deliver 210 TWh of the 255-270 TWh required to reduce emissions to 100gCO2/kWh by 2030. A further 50-60 TWh of renewables could be deployed in the 2020s at no,or minimal, additional cost to consumers, although nuclear and CCS projects are likely to be more expensive. Successful delivery of further nuclear projects beyond Hinkley Point C or CCS projects in power could reduce this emissions intensity towards 50 gCO2/kWh.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The pressing contemporary relevance of nuclear free zones

Letter sent to The Times:

Your chief political correspondent, Lucy Fisher, asserts that “remarkably, it turns out that 40 councils in Britain and Ireland are still affiliated to  the Nuclear Free Local authorities group [NFLAs] (“Labour cares more about purity than votes,” June 30;
She does not explain why this is deemed remarkable, but does cite in support of her argument an un-named  “centrist” Labour  campaigner  who “snorted”- apparently derisively- about  the Labour left backing for  “nuclear free zones.”

Lucy’s picture (and the fact she graduated from university in 2011) suggests she is still in her twenties, so may not have experience on the origin and accomplishments of the nuclear free zone movements, which are not only backed by local councils but by many countries ( eg the whole of South America is a nuclear [weapons] free zone) and the United Nations.

One of President Trump’s aims in his diplomatic initiative with North Korea is to create nuclear free zone in the Korean peninsula. Ten years ago  even Israel’s then prime minister  joined collection of Arab leaders in signing the Final declaration the Paris of Mediterranean countries, held on 13 July 2008, which inter alia,  called for “a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems.” (

Of many constructive achievements by the UK and  Ireland NFLAs is their work in pressing Government  in Whitehall to re-assess the ‘fitness-for-purpose’ of evacuation zones around  a fixed nuclear facilities and procedures dealing with  accidents involving nuclear materials in transport.(‘ NFLA Policy Briefing 172: Evacuations after Severe Nuclear Accidents’ February 2018,

Two years ago the group issued serious, scholarly independent detailed study on the worrisome prospect of failures of the security apparatus protecting  nuclear plants and materials in transport, for which I did the research (‘NFLA Policy Briefing 145: Nuclear security concerns – how secure is the UK civil nuclear sector?, May 2016,

Lucy should not be so keen to dismiss the solid serious research work done by the NFLA group with  small ( but high value-added)  financial support from concerned  local authorities.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Naked nuclear hypocrisy

Letter to The Guardian:
Your diplomatic editor rightly exposes the faux concern expressed by various British politicians, over the White House announcement on 28 June of US President Trump’s forthcoming summit meeting with Russia’s President Putin. (“Britain stands nervously by waiting for surprises,” 29 June;

 On the very same day as this announcement, foreign secretary Boris Johnson jointly with his US and Russian counterparts, Mike Pompeo and Sergei Lavrov, signed a declaration marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the world’s most comprehensive nuclear disarmament agreement, the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT), on 1st July 1968, with these three nuclear weapons states as its depositary  powers.
Inter alia, the statement asserts: “The NPT has provided the essential foundation for international efforts to stem the looming threat – then and now – that nuclear weapons would proliferate across the globe… and has limited the risk that the vast devastation of nuclear war would be unleashed…the NPT continues to help create conditions that would be essential for further progress on nuclear disarmament. We remain committed to the ultimate goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons, as set forth in the NPT, and are committed to working together to make the international environment more conducive to such progress.”
(Joint Statement by the Foreign Ministers of the Depositary Governments for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Washington DC

Article I of the NPT starts with the following commitment on Russia, the US and UK: “Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly” ( my emphasis)

Extraordinarily, just two days earlier in Washington, the US hosted a bilateral meeting with the UK to  celebrate the 60th anniversary – from July 3, 1958 -  of a hugely significant nuclear defence agreement (commonly called the US–UK Mutual Defense Agreement,(MDA) with defence spelled with an ‘s’ even in the official UK version, hinting at the origin of its drafting).


The US department of energy issued a media release on the MDA, in that declares it “provides for the exchange of defense information relevant to nuclear weapons, naval nuclear propulsion, and nuclear threat reduction.”


Ministry of Defence permanent secretary Stephen Lovegrove said, “the special relationship between Britain and the US is one built on shared values and years of cooperation.”

Julian Kelly, MOD director general nuclear added “Not only does the agreement allow us to work closely together, sharing skills and knowledge, it also allows us to ensure our nations, and our allies, remain ready for any eventuality we may face.”


US National Nuclear Security Administration director Lisa Gordon-Hagerty noted that “the MDA is a cornerstone of our nuclear deterrent.”


In fact, the MDA has allowed the UK to test nuclear warheads in Nevada, and to use blueprints of US warhead designs from Los Alamos to develop British versions for Trident at Aldermaston.
Any normal use of language would say that this activity across several decades is minimally an indirect transfer of a nuclear weapon, and thus in contravention of the very first article of a treaty for which the UK and US are depositary nations, ie supposed to  protect and uphold its integrity!

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

You cannot fuel nuclear proliferation from a tidal lagoon

Letter submitted to The Guardian:
The question asked in your first leader: “Hinkley Point C got the go-ahead despite its cost. So why not Swansea Bay?” (Guardian, 27 June;

Firstly, you cannot warheads for nuclear weapons of mass destruction form any by-products of a tidal lagoon as you can from Hinkley C’s plutonium. Indeed, when Hinkley A was being developed in the late the Ministry of Defence issued clear statement on: “the production of  plutonium suitable for weapons in the new [nuclear ] power stations programme as an insurance against  future defence needs…” (17 June 1958)

A week later in Parliament, the then responsible minister, Paymaster General Reginald Maudling explained to MPs:

“At the request of the Government, the Central Electricity Generating Board has agreed to a small modification in the design of Hinkley Point and of the next two stations in its programme so as to enable plutonium suitable for military purposes to be extracted should the need arise.

The Government made this request in order to provide the country, at comparatively small cost, with a most valuable insurance against possible future defence requirements. The cost of providing such insurance by any other means would be extremely heavy.” (Hansard, 24 June 1958 vol 590 cc246-8;

The second reason is the skill set of those building and operating a tidal lagoon generation plant cannot easily be swapped with those involved in developing  reactors for British nuclear submarines; but those working on Hinkley C can do so.

We know from Whitehall discussions of the special ‘nuclear industry sector deal’(NISD), this is exactly what the business and energy department (Beis)  finds so attractive in new nuclear plants, despite their astronomical financial cost. eg the Nuclear Industry Council framework document on the NISD states at paragraph 6.11:

To support this industry-led initiative, Government should bring nuclear developers and owners together, including the NDA and Ministry of Defence.”

Moreover, Stephen Lovegrove, MOD permanent secretary (previously at Beis) explicitly told the public accounts committee last October:

 We are completing the build of the nuclear submarines which carry conventional weaponry. We have at some point to renew the warheads, so there is very definitely an opportunity here for the nation to grasp in terms of building up its nuclear skills. I do not think that that is going to happen by accident; it is going to require concerted Government action to make it happen. We are speaking to colleagues at BEIS fairly repeatedly about it…”


But don’t expect MPs to be provided any details in advance for scrutiny. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was told by energy minister Richard Harrington in a written answer on 25 June:”

“the Government will ensure that appropriate value for money assessments are completed before any final deal on a new nuclear project is signed and will consider releasing future publications at the appropriate time.”

​He added “the Government published a value for money assessment for Hinkley Point C at the time of the deal being signed.” ie after MPS had any chance to question it.