Britain comes clean on nerve gas

Britain largely disposed of its offensive chemical warfare arsenal - poison gas, including nerve gas - in 1960, the Government disclosed yesterday.

But until 1978, small amounts of nerve gas were made at Nancekuke in Cornwall, when it housed the Process Research Division of the Porton Down Chemical Defence Establishment, and Britain nearly rearmed with chemical weapons in 1963. Although the Nancekuke site was, like the one remaining site at Porton Down in Wiltshire, meant to help develop defences against chemical attack, some of the work done there was used by the United States to develop offensive chemical weapons as late as 1964. The chemicals made there included the nerve agents sarin and VX.

The 240-page report is Britain's declaration to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as now required by the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which came into force on 29 April, and to which Britain is a signatory.

Now, Britain maintains a "single small-scale facility" at Porton Down, run by the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, which is allowed up to one ton of chemical agent to help develop defences under the treaty, although the Ministry of Defence said that a very small quantity was also kept at the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham, Oxfordshire.

The report reveals that more than 40,000 tons of chemical warfare agents - phosgene, mustard gas and tear gas- were manufactured during the Second World War, although none of the major combatants used chemical weapons in battle against another. After the war, captured German bombs containing nerve gas - a German invention - were brought to Britain, both for experimental use and as weapons. In 1956, the Cabinet decided to halt production of nerve gas and most of the chemical weapon stocks were destroyed.

In 1963, the Cabinet recommended that Britain reacquire offensive chemical weapons for retaliation in case the Soviet union and its allies used them, but, the report says, "for a variety of reasons including economic pressures and a political reluctance to rearm with these weapons, the recommendation was never implemented".

Britain tabled the first draft Chemical Weapons Treaty in 1976. It signed the current CWC on 13 January 1993, and ratified it a year ago. The convention obliges signatories to release details going back to 1946. It reveals that the British stocks, including half a million 25lb artillery shells filled with mustard gas and 58,000 phosgene and mustard gas 500lb bombs for the Royal Air Force, were largely obsolete, compared with the nerve agents the Germans had developed. Also kept in store were 71,000 German bombs filled with the nerve agent tabun, which were incompatible with RAF aircraft.

The report lists all the sites in Britain where chemical weapons were manufactured and stored. It also reveals there was a Chemical Defence Research Establishment in India, closed before the country's independence in 1947, and that hot-climate trials were carried out in Nigeria in the early Fifties, and in Malaya.

The Chemical Weapons Convention allows each signatory country a single, small-scale facility, which in Britain's case is Porton Down. It says that experiments must be carried out in small-reaction vessels which cannot operate continuously, and it limits their capacity. Britain's, the convention says, is 160 litres.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before