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.

Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Heskey's aim has improved since the end of his English football career

Long after his career in English football has ended, Emile Heskey's impotency in front of goal remains an object of ridicule.

Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam