Letter: Plutonium for sale

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The Independent Online
Sir: We told you so. Profoundly irritating, but true. The world simply cannot go on and on manufacturing nuclear explosives and not expect some of it to end up in the wrong hands. (What, indeed, are the right hands?)

Britain accepts a 2 to 3 per cent margin of error in its fissile material stock accountancy and claims that the discrepancy between actual and book figures has no physical reality. Maybe. Maybe not. Two per cent of Britain's fissile material stockpile (generally accepted as 10 tonnes of highly enriched uranium and three of plutonium) adds up to an awful lot of unaccounted-for nuclear explosive. And of course our accountants are wonderful. What about not only the Russian stocks but those of the US, France, China . . . ? What of Japan, Germany, India and all the other countries with civil stocks?

We can face the problem by throwing up our hands in horrified surrender or we can try, even at this late hour, to halt and then to reverse this remorseless build- up. Step one must be to stop all fissile material production, whether described as for military or civil purposes. In Britain, that means closing down the Thorp plutonium production plant.

Next, all existing stocks must be placed under international inspection and control. That includes ours. We cannot expect Russia or any other country to accept a regime that we refuse to join.

These measures would stabilise the situation and begin the building of an atmosphere of trust, rather than panic. Then, maybe, we could move on to actually getting rid of the stuff.

Yours sincerely,




London, N7

18 August