Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-142)


21 NOVEMBER 2006

  Q140 Mr Havard: I would like to ask you about the argument with regard to the virtual arsenal (do not panic) and whether there is any debate about this. This is the argument that says, given the skills and the information we have through the nuclear cycle civil generation, etc., and if we are to keep the capability, the role and function of Aldermaston could switch to be more like Porton Down. In other words, it would become something that could be involved in terms of verification and so on, so you could keep the skills. In other words you keep the capability to reconstitute a nuclear programme should you wish to have it. The example that is often given is Japan that has both the capability and the civil fissile material potentially and all of that sort of stuff and could constitute a programme within six months to two years. It is a compromise argument and Aldermaston would be absolutely central should you wish to go down that road. I wondered whether or not there was any discussion going on about what would happen in terms of the focus in Aldermaston shifting as opposed to Aldermaston going and what the skills would be and how they could be reconverted.

  Mr King: To give you a very short answer—purely because you said "virtual arsenal", and as a member of Mr Hancock's constituency I think we are still one above them in the League—it is not something that has been discussed. The only discussion we have been having at the moment is what shape the Government's decision is going to take and we will adapt to that. It sounds like a bit of a strange line, but the position of the majority of staff, including scientific and engineering at Aldermaston, is, whatever decision the Government makes, that is the decision that—

  Q141 Mr Havard: That is what I was really fishing for. In a sense the truth of it is that the capability at Aldermaston is able to do a number of things on this continuum, is it not, to replace what there is, or to develop something different even, and also to maintain safety for what is and potentially to do the problem of dealing with disarmament, if you like. It is capable of doing all these things.

  Mr King: Yes.

  Q142 Chairman: Maybe he is not the right person to ask. Maybe the Minister is.

  Mr King: I would think on the science basis I most certainly am not qualified.

  Chairman: Mr King, you suggested that your colleagues' toes would curl. I had the impression that they had a good relationship with their employers and so I am sure they did not. Can I say thank you very much indeed to all of you for giving evidence so helpfully and so clearly, and also briefly, which is not easy when you have four of you answering several different questions coming from all angles.

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