Letter: Answers on nuclear tests that raise new questions

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The Independent Online
THE Clinton administration is days away from deciding the future of the United States and British nuclear testing programme in Nevada ('Time runs out as Clinton dithers over nuclear test', 20 June). According to Peter Pringle, 'Britain's generals, like their counterparts in the Pentagon, say they need to test to keep Britain's nuclear deterrent safe and reliable.' He goes on to say that under the three-stage plan recommended by the President's advisers one or two of the three British tests would be on the Trident warhead, and one or two on the WE177 free-fall bomb.

If this is true, ministers have given inaccurate answers to Parliament. British generals may be claiming that safety tests are necessary on the existing stockpile, but the Government denies this, as the following quote in Hansard makes clear: 'Any future testing relates to the safety of future weapons systems' (Viscount Cranborne, October 1992).

With regard to Trident, Archie Hamilton, then Minister for the Armed Forces, put the matter beyond reasonable doubt last October: 'There are no implications for the Trident warhead system, the tests for which have been completed.' With regard to the free-fall bomb, the Government has talked about developing a replacement tactical warhead, while claiming that the existing system will remain serviceable well into the next century.

If the tests which the UK want are not related to future systems, then what inadequacies of our existing weapons have been hidden? If they are related to future systems, what new weapons are we developing, how much are they costing, and what are they for?

Dr Sean Howard

British American Security Information Council, Washington DC