Britain bans fissile material for weapons

Britain yesterday committed itself formally to ending all production of nuclear fissile material for weapons use. Previously, only Russia and the United States among the nuclear states had made such a commitment.

The announcement was made by the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, at the second day of the conference in New York on extending the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which came into force 25 years ago and is due to expire. Mr Hurd also noted previously announced decisions to abandon surface maritime nuclear weapons and to phase out Britain's free- fall atomic bombs.

Moreover, Mr Hurd for the first time pointed to the conditions under which Britain might enter its nuclear capability into a global negotiation for nuclear disarmament. "There is no doubt that a world in which US and Russian nuclear forces were counted in hundreds, rather than thousands, would be one in which Britain would respond to the challenge of multilateral talks on the global reduction of nuclear arms," he said.

The remarks, which have more symbolic than actual practical significance, were aimed at the large group of mostly non-aligned countries at the conference who are unhappy with the progress made by the five declared nuclear states - the US, Russia, China, Britain and France - towards disarming themselves since the NPT came into force in 1970.

While at least four of the nuclear states are pushing for an indefinite and unconditional extension of the treaty - the position of China is not clear - many among the non-aligned countries are expected to argue for its renewal only for a fixed or fixed periods. In that way they hope they can maintain the pressure on the five eventually to abandon their weapons.

There seems little doubt now that at least a slim majority will be found for indefinite extension when the conference concludes in about four weeks. However, Western diplomats stress that unless something close to a consensus of the participating states can be achieved, much of the moral force of the treaty, the centrepiece of all disarmament efforts, will be lost.

Urging indefinite extension, Mr Hurd said it would "underline to all - including those tempted to go down the route of proliferation - that the world community remains determined to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and the horrors which this threatens. The treaty deserves the biggest vote of confidence we can give it." The Foreign Secretary said that Britain will have 21 per cent fewer nuclear warheads by the end of the decade than in the 1970s and their explosive power will be 50 per cent less. "If the world had seen cuts of this order in other types of weapons, it would be a safer and more stable place."

There is likely to be considerable scepticism about his presentation, however. In reality, Britain has barely been producing fissile weapons material since 1979, relying on recycling old warheads. Moreover, many in the non-aligned group are likely to question Britain's disarmament credentials against the background of its Trident submarine programme, which is only now just coming into force.

"The UK government is demaning an indefinite and unconditional extension on the basis of flimsy claims," Janet Bloomfield, chairwoman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said in New York. "It has a `do as I say, not as I do' attitude to nuclear proliferation."

Britain's continued reprocessing of plutonium for civilian use at the Thorpe reprocessing plant is also likely to be raised at the conference.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Bathroom Showroom Manager / Bathroom Sales Designer

£22 - £25k basic + Commission=OTE £35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Bathroom Sh...

Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

Recruitment Genius: IT Engineer

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity now exists for a...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones