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Counting the cost of Trident

 
     
Kate Hudson
 
Aeriel View of Faslane Naval Base

Tony Blair says Britain needs nuclear weapons. More than that, he now seems to be committing us to spending billions of pounds on a new generation of nuclear weapons. This is to replace the existing Trident nuclear weapons system when it passes its sell-by date in about twenty years time.
Debates about whether Britain actually needs nuclear weapons have been raging for decades. But with the Cold War over, more and more people are coming to the view that there is no conceivable purpose in having them. We do not face a nuclear super-power rival, and even Mr Blair agrees that they are no use against the threat of terrorism. Neither those attacking New York on September 11th, nor those bombing London on July 7th, were deterred by US and UK nukes.

So if they don’t meet our most urgent security purposes, what is their point? Defence Secretary

John Reid argues that irrespective of current security issues, Britain faces a long-term more traditional type of nuclear threat and that we need to plan accordingly. Reid seems to be playing on people’s fears that either Russia will re-emerge as a nuclear opponent, or that another nuclear armed super power will emerge, possibly China.
If this is a genuine concern, then rather than preparing for a future rerun of the edge of the abyss nightmare of the Cold War period, surely it would be better to start working now towards nuclear disarmament? Britain could be playing a role in promoting disarmament, as required by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which we and the other nuclear weapons states are signatories. Abolition of nuclear weapons is the only way to ensure that they aren’t used. The idea of knowingly and willingly entering into decades of nuclear arms race and the massive waste of resources that entails – combined with potential destruction of the planet – seems irresponsible in the extreme.

So how much money have we, the British taxpayers, spent on this weapons system that cannot actually defend us against the threats we really face? It appears that the original procurement costs for the existing system

were around £12 billion, and that each year, taking into account associated costs, the Trident nuclear weapons system costs us around £1.5 billion. The rebuilding of the Dockyards at Plymouth to allow for the periodic refitting of the submarines that carry the nuclear weapons cost around £1 billion. Additional billions have recently been given to the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment for the development of new buildings and facilities, we assume for the development of the planned Trident replacement. The full cost of developing a replacement, including missiles, submarines and base facilities is estimated to be as much as £25 billion. This same sum of money is the equivalent of building about one thousand new schools at today’s costs. And that’s before we pay for its regular upkeep every year thereafter.

So what else could our money buy for us, if we didn’t choose to spend it on weapons of mass destruction? Instead of one year’s maintenance of Trident at £1.5 billion, we could instead pay the salary of over 8,000 new nurses or teachers (newly regis


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