3 The 'speediest safe transition'
of nuclear weapons from Scotland |
14. In their publication, Disarming Trident,
A practical guide to de-activating and dismantling the Scottish-based
Trident nuclear weapon system,
CND Scotland proposed a timetable to remove the warheads from
Scotland should Scotland become a separate state:
|Disarming Trident Timetable
|Phase 1||End of operational deployment of submarines
|Phase 2||Remove key and triggers
|Phase 3||Disable missiles
|Phase 4||Remove warheads from submarines
|Phase 5||Remove missiles from two submarines
|Phase 6||Disable nuclear warheads and remove Limited Life Components from Scotland
|Phase 7||Remove nuclear warheads from Scotland
|Phase 8||Dismantle nuclear warheads
15. John Ainslie from CND Scotland, explained the first stages
of his timetable where Trident would be deactivated:
The initial step is that Trident could be deactivated, in a sense,
so that it cannot be used within a matter of days. There is a
trigger that the weapons operating officer presses and the captain
turns a key. If you take away the triggers and the keys and you
take the submarine off patrol, there are components of the missile
that can be removed within a period of a day. That deactivates
it in a sense so that it cannot be used in anger within a matter
It is also possible to remove other essential components that
are required to launch the missile, but importantly, the system
could be disabled with seven to eight days,
and the main time limit at this point would be the time it took
to recall the submarine that was out on patrol.
At this point the process is comparatively easily reversible,
unless the keys and triggers are separated at a verified distance
from the submarine.
16. The next step is to remove the warheads from the missiles,
which Mr Ainslie estimated would take about eight to ten weeks:
You have got nuclear warheads that are on top of the missile.
The numbers are highly classified, but, in practice, say that
they are down to eight missiles in each submarine. You have three
armed submarines, each of which has eight missiles and each missile
has five nuclear warheads. Current practice in Britain on safety
grounds is that they install and remove the warheads while they
are on the missile on the submarine. The first stage is you take
all the warheads off one submarine. The time for each is seven
to 10 days. I say that because, again, I watched them loading
a Vanguard in December 1994 before its first patrol. It was taking
them about a week to 10 days. They were carrying slightly more
than they carry nowthey were loading 60 at that point.
Each one would take about a week, so, in theory, with three submarines,
you could do it in three weeks, but, again, because of the safety
considerations, it is quite a big operation; it is not just something
you can take on tomorrow. Eight weeks is building in a longer
period. It is one week, for each of three submarines.
The removal of warheads from three submarines would be limited
by there not being enough space and staff at Coulport to work
on them all at the same time.
Removal of the warheads is a sensitive process that would have
to be undertaken by specialist staff from the Ministry of Defence
and Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston,
and then transported out of Scotland. Until then, all the relevant
parts are still in Coulport. Subject to verification, the warheads
could be physically moved out of Scotland in two years.
17. The two year figure was based on moving nine or ten warheads
a month out of Scotland from a current stockpile of 225.
The speed at which the warheads can be moved being determined
by the speed and frequency of the convoys that would carry the
warheads safely and securely to AWE Burghfield in England:
They used to take three days to drive up and three days to drive
down, so it was at least a week's operation every time. They are
now quicker, but, even so, we have to allow time for the crew
and for training. That would be having the vehicles operationally
on the road for possibly a week every month and then three weeks'
build up. There are clearly lots of safety and security concerns
about moving nuclear warheads.
18. All the warheads would be out of Scotland with two years.
In a further two years the warheads could be put beyond use but
that would have to take place in England. Mr Ainslie was clear
that this timetable only concerned removing the nuclear warheads
from Scotland, not the time to decommission Coulport.
Similarly, the estimated cost would be an extrapolation of the
running costs of the UK nuclear weapons programmes enhanced by
extra staff and extra convoys,
and not the costs of decommissioning.
19. Mr Ainslie had shown his timetable to various
experts, including Bruce Blair, "the leading world expert
on de-alerting nuclear forces in America" and Professor Richard
Garwin from the US nuclear weapons establishmentboth had
agreed the time table is credible.
In fact, while Mr Ainslie conceded that some of the timings had
to be estimated, Bruce Blair had told him that the CND timetable
was a "safe and reasonable way of doing it", but it
might be possible to carry out the process more quickly.
Professor William Walker, School of International Relations, University
of St Andrews, agreed the CND Scotland timetable to remove all
the warheads from Scotland within two years was feasible, but
it would require the UK and Scottish Governments to work together:
Again, it comes back to political will, and it would
have to be done consensually. You would need a lot of co-operation
between the two sides to make it workable, but if that was what
the two sides wanted to do, it could be done.
20. And he emphasised the need for co-operation,
because the UK was the nuclear power:
Again, the "24 months" relies upon complete
cooperation between the two sides and agreement on it. [...]
All the sensitive stuff would have to be under the complete control
of the UK Government; Scottish hands could not be on it.
21. It is possible to deactivate
Trident within a matter of days, and for the nuclear warheads,
missiles and submarines to be removed from Scotland within twenty
22. Scotland could not carry
out this process by itself as all handling and transport of the
warheads must be carried out by specialist staff from the UK.
It would require full co-operation between the UK and Scottish
What would happen to the UK's
23. There may be other ways to remove the nuclear
weapons from Scotland. The armed submarine on patrol could remain
on patrol for a period of time, but this could only be a short
term option because of certain limiting factors, such as the provision
of food and water for the submariners, the need for the submarine
to undergo general maintenance, and importantly the time-dependent
components of the warhead. Coulport has unique facilities and
trained specialist staff to handle the warheads as safely as possible.
Coulport is the safest place for the submarines to return to.
However, if a newly-separate Scotland was to insist on the process
to remove Trident from the Clyde with the consequences as described
by CND Scotland, it would necessitate the Vanguard-class submarines
returning to Coulport so that the warheads could be removed safely,
and thereafter the submarines would no longer be available to
go out on patrol.
24. Therefore, a short timetable could force
an interruption in CASD and,
as Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Research Director, UK Defence Policy,
Royal United Services Institute, said, the UK would be given little
The first thing it would do is take the warheads
to Aldermaston and basically continuous at-sea deterrence would
end. Then the Navy would be asked, "How long is it going
to take you to regain this?" The politicians would be asked,
"What political price and financial price are you prepared
to pay to restore continuous at-sea deterrence?
25. The result, if the weapons were forced to
leave Scotland too quickly, would affect the UK's ability to operate
its nuclear deterrent:
In the particular circumstances of Trident bases
in Scotland there is no way in which the UK Government could rapidly
rebase these forces in England. [...] Arguably, it would be politically
impossible for them to do so, so for Scotland in those circumstances
to insist on them leaving would be to force the UK to make a decision
effectively to de-nuclearise.
26. John Ainslie was asked what would happen
to the nuclear weapons if his timetable was implemented, and he
You are forced into a position of disarming. You
cannot move them to England or Wales. You cannot move them to
the United States, because that was previously ruled out, and
Ile Longue in Francewhat you are talking about in France
is a new site.
Furthermore, he confirmed CND Scotland would campaign
for the weapons to be removed from Scotland within two years knowing
that the result could mean disarmament for the UK, and they would
not wish to allow the UK extra time to develop a new base:
For Scottish CND to say, "Let us move them in
20 years' time to England," is not something we would have
any time for at all. If what you are saying is that in 20 years'
time, we will build another facility at Falmouth, which is the
more viable of the options, we could not say, "Oh, yes, we
will go along with that."
This view appeared to be shared by the First Minister
in an interview after the SNP October 2012 Conference, where he
was quoted as saying that if Scotland won independence then "far
better it was curtains for Trident", and that given the options
the UK could decide on "a much better policy, which would
be to decommission the weapons system."
27. If the Scottish Government
insisted upon the removal of the nuclear deterrent from Faslane
by the 'speediest safe transition' then it would mean the armed
submarine on patrol would be recalled, and in effect, Continuous
At Sea Deterrent would stop. The UK at that point would no longer
be able to operate its nuclear deterrent and it is not clear how
quickly the UK could restore Continuous At Sea Deterrence.
27 CND Scotland, Disarming
Scotland, June 2012 Back
Q 1059 Back
Q 1083 and Q 1091 Back
Q 1063 Back
Q 1085 Back
Q 1110 Back
Qq 1069-1071 Back
Q 1059 Back
Q 1073 Back
Q 1066 Back
Q 1078 Back
Qq 1134-1135 Back
Q 1059, Q 1064, Qq1066-1069 and Q 1400 Back
Q 1059. See also Qq 1062-1063, and Q 1085 Back
Q 1400 Back
Q 1415 Back
Q 1447 Back
Q 264 Back
Q 195 Back
Q 1121 Back
Qq 1123-1124 Back
"Independent Scotland would not house Trident missiles, says
Alex Salmond", The Guardian, 21 October 2012 Back