Ministers are expected to give the go-ahead on the next stage of replacing Britain's Trident nuclear weapons system in a statement to MPs tomorrow (18 May 2011). Figures recently released to an MP show that the government expects the construction of the submarines to cost around £26 billion compared to the original estimate of £11-14 billion, with significant further costs for maintaining them and upgrading other parts of the weapons system.
Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said "Trident is a ruinously expensive white elephant that the country can ill afford. Yet the government seems willing to pay whatever it costs to get their hands on an updated version. Yet these are weapons designed to fight the Cold War that ended a generation ago. The Liberal Democrats in the coalition may have delayed some decisions, but have ultimately crumbled under the pressure, allowing the development of the 'like-for-like' Trident replacement they pledged to oppose."
She continued, "The billions that will now be squandered on the next phase of Trident are funds that will be unavailable for combating real threats to Britain's security and the cost increase of this project will cause even deeper cuts to public services by other departments. A further round of cuts to military personnel and non-nuclear projects is expected in July, but there seems to be a bottomless reserve available for nuclear weapons. How many more billions are to be poured into these vanity projects which have no military use other than triggering Armageddon?"
The new figures were revealed in a response to Katy Clark MP when Defence Equipment Minister Peter Luff described the costs of the two planning phases expected before the final decision ('main gate') is taken in 2016: "The combined cost of the Concept Phase, totalling approximately £900 million, and the Assessment Phase, totalling approximately £3 billion at outturn prices, is consistent with the departmental guidance that programmes should spend approximately 15 per cent of the total costs before Main Gate."
If the combined cost of the Concept and Assessment phases - £3.9 billion - is 15 per cent of the total, that would give an outturn cost for the submarines of £26 billion. The original MoD cost estimate, using prices as they were in 2006 was of £11-14 billion being required for the submarines. Inflation as felt by the general economy would only be expected to have added £1-2 billion to costs in that time.
Ministers have also stated they will not release the growth in costs required by the decision to go ahead with a new untested reactor design (PWR3) after having ruled out using the existing reactor or an upgraded variant of it (PWR2 and PWR2b). Campaigners have consistently called for greater transparency and CND says that in this case there can be no question of security or commercial reasons for ministers telling MPs "We will provide a description and revised cost estimate of the selected design inthe initial gate parliamentary report, but not for those designs that have been rejected."
Noting the changed circumstances after the Scottish elections, Kate Hudson said "Scotland is expected to host these nuclear weapon submarines just 40 miles from Glasgow. Yet with an avowedly anti-nuclear government in Edinburgh keen to push for independence, that option may well become impossible long before these boats are finished. Unless ministers are willing to throw billions more at the project to create bases elsewhere to host them, Britain could end up with nuclear submarines, but no base from which to operate them. We can stop this madness now, and join the overwhelming majority of countries who are secure and prosperous, yet nuclear weapon free."