Britain has been secretly designing a new nuclear warhead in conjunction
with the United States, provoking a legal row over the proliferation of nuclear
weapons, a media report claimed here on Sunday. The government has been pushing
ahead with the programme while claiming that no decision has been made on a
successor to Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent, the Sunday Times reported.
Work on a new weapon by scientists at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston
in Berkshire has been under way since Prime Minister Tony Blair was re-elected
as Prime Minister in last May, and is now said to be ahead of a similar US research,
the report claimed.
The aim, according to the report, is to produce a simpler device using proven
components to avoid breaching the ban on nuclear testing. Known as the Reliable
Replacement Warhead (RRW), it is being designed so that it can be tested in
a laboratory rather than by detonation, the paper said.
“We’ve got to build something that we can never test and be absolutely
confident that, when we use it, it will work,” one senior British source
told the newspaper. The secret programme to build a new warhead in close cooperation
with the Americans will spark anger among Labour opponents of any replacement
of the Trident programme, which is estimated to have cost about £10 billion.
Developing a new weapon would also be a material breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty. The office of Lord Goldsmith, refused to comment on whether it had been
asked for legal advice by the 10 Downing Street.