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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

Software Engineer - C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software En...

Software Team Leader - C++

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software Tea...

Sales Executive - Central London /Home working - £20K-£40K

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Executive - Ce...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor