Monday, 18 June 2012

Fig leaves and WMD

Both the Telegraph and the BBC carry stories claiming that the UK Government is about to order nuclear reactors for the submarines which will carry the replacement to Trident, and that this will cause problems for the Liberal Democrats. 
Peter Black, on the other hand, is clear that the UK Government has not yet committed to the Trident replacement and that the Liberal Democrats will continue to oppose the simple replacement of Trident.  Technically, he’s correct; the final decision on Trident replacement has not yet been taken and will not be taken until conveniently after the next UK General Election. 
And of course, for a government building aircraft carriers with no aircraft, there’s probably nothing at all strange about building submarine nuclear reactors with no submarines in which to fit them.  It still looks like a strange decision to me though, and it makes the ‘main gate’ timetable of 2016 look increasingly like a fig leaf to cover for Lib Dem complicity in an unpalatable decision.
There is something odd about the Lib Dems position anyway.  Although presented as opposition to Trident replacement, they are not actually opposed to the continued possession of nuclear weapons, or even to the upgrading or renewal of those weapons.  Their opposition is concentrated on the means of delivery – their objection is to the submarines which would carry the warheads, not to the warheads themselves.
In short, they want to retain the weapons, but develop a less effective way of delivering them.  There’s something very Liberal Democrat about that position.

7 comments:

G Horton-Jones said...

John
As ever the problem is one of timescale and the lack of any understanding of the associated consequences particularly when linked to military activity.
Parliament is a very short term thinking animal and its limitations as exposed in this blog often lead to the most appalling tragedies

Again you use the UK tag.
In the timescales involved the UK may cease to exist as such. Despite the hardware we are simply not a global power and have not been for generations
And does Wales need an aircraft carrier and a nuclear submarine with or without its planes or engines

Siônnyn said...

If these reactors can be housed safely in submarines, then would the billion not be better spent on developing them for civilian use? I don't know how much energy they generate, but I would guess it would be enough for a small town, and they must run safely and unattended for many months on end, due to the nature of the beast.

The other thing about this story is that the billion is being spent in re-tooling a Rolls-Royce facility to produce these reactors. Surely, RR is a private company that should be expected to raise the money needed on the capital markets?

300 jobs are to be safeguarded. That is 3.3 million a job - even the WDA didn't aspire to that level of public subsidy!

John Dixon said...

Siônnyn,

Reactors have been housed in submarines for decades, and not just nuclear-armed submarines. Whether they are 'safely' housed or not depends on a judgement about the probability and possible scale of any accident.

Of course RR is a private company, but nuclear technology has never been (and may never be) commercially viable without public subsidy - especially in the 'defence' arena.

Siônnyn said...

And now Carwyn has unilaterally decided that Wales will welcome the WMD when Scotland have the good sense to throw them out.

Of course there is a question about the ownership of these weapons when the UK ceases to exist. The Ukraine kept theirs, Georgia kept theirs. Why shouldn't Scotland keep theirs, and just de-commission them? The assumption that the rUK would inherit these weapons appears a little arrogant. ANd would the new state of RUK be allowed to obtain Nuclear Weapons under the non-proliferation treaty, to which they would be bound?

Anonymous said...

There have been a few merchant vessels fitted with nuclear reactors, sponsored by various goovernments. The most notable the Japanese MV Mitsu, however, at a cost of $1.2bn it has never been commercially viable, and the reactor was removed in 1995 to be replaced with diesel. It new actually came into commercial service due to service costs. The only other commercial use of nuclear propulsion has been on Soviet era Icebreakers, all of which were decommissioned due to unviable commercial costs, and ironically, lack of need, due to polar melting.There was also one US nuclear powered commercial vessel, NS Savannah, but that was a commercial disaster and has been impounded by the US Maritime Administration who can't afford decommissioning and it remains abandoned under quarantine berthed at Baltimore. It will be 2031 before any decommissioning of the reactor can be considered, although there is no private funding to do so. There is no commercial application for nuclear propulsion. To give an example of how silly nuclear propulsion is, it would be cheaper to attach sails to existing container ships !

John Dixon said...

Siônnyn,

"And would the new state of RUK be allowed to obtain Nuclear Weapons under the non-proliferation treaty, to which they would be bound? "

Since the current UK Government is already in breach of said treaty, I would have no expectation that any future successor would consider such minor matters as mere treaty obligations as any sort of a barrier.

You mean there's more??? said...

Lets for a minute get inside their twisted little heads. In actuality Trident is a weapon useable in just one military scenario. It has no flexibility at all.

So by any measure this is a big chunk of defence spending for one purpose.

Since it is also pretty much dependent on American guidance systems it's not even terribly indipendent.

We could well fire the lot at the worlds leading terrorist intent on vaporising Washington and find some yob inside a mountain over there just switches the guidence off.

The thing is there are other delivery systems out there.

Cruise springs to mine, could be paunched from a submarine, a ship, an aircraft or ground launched.

The thing with cruise though is you have a choice what you strap on the front of it, so it's not just a nuke delivery system. It works for other scenarios.

So money spent on such a programmme would be money spent giving the country a range of options not just the one.

This would be far cheaper than Trident and far more flexible.

Thats presenting the case from the military machine point of view, personally, beyond massaging the ego aspirations and delusions of old style imperialists I cannto see the point of nuclear weapons at all.