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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there