THE POSSIBLE RETURN of US nuclear weapons to RAF Lakenheath after 14 years has been branded “a disaster” by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

It comes amid reports that the US Department of Defence quietly added the UK to a list of NATO nuclear weapons storage locations in Europe, being upgraded under a multi-million dollar infrastructure programme.

The UK’s inclusion in the budget was first spotted by Hans Kristensen, the director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). Kristensen believes the base in question is RAF Lakenheath, located just 100 km from London.

In a blog on the FAS website, Kristensen writes: “The addition of the United Kingdom to the list of nuclear storage locations being upgraded in Europe signals a change in the nuclear status of RAF Lakenheath. It is unclear if nuclear weapons have been returned to the base yet or NATO is upgrading the base to be capable of receiving nuclear weapons in the future if necessary.

“After nuclear weapons were withdrawn nearly two decades ago, the empty storage vaults were kept in caretaker status. The F-15Es fighter-bombers retained their nuclear capability but at a lower operational level. In recent years there have been rumours about nuclear exercises at the base.”

Kristensen concludes: “Readying RAF Lakenheath could potentially also be intended to better realign the overall nuclear posture in Europe with the rapidly deteriorating relations with Russia. This is a delicate issue because changes in NATO’s nuclear posture in Europe might trigger retaliatory changes in Russia’s nuclear posture, including potentially deployment of nuclear weapons to Belarus, which recently changed its constitution to allow for just that.”

Commenting on the developments, CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said: “News that US nuclear weapons may already be back in Britain, at RAF/USAF Lakenheath, makes the UK once again a forward nuclear base for the US in Europe. 110 US free-fall B61 nuclear bombs were removed from Lakenheath in 2008, following sustained protest at the base by CND and the Lakenheath Action Group. Reports of nuclear exercises at Lakenheath increase the likelihood that nuclear weapons are already back, or are on their way, and within the next year US/NATO nuclear bases in Europe will also receive the new B61-12 guided nuclear bomb.

“These bombs are assigned to NATO and the return of US nuclear weapons to Britain – along with the upgrading of its nuclear weapons across Europe – constitutes a further undermining of prospects for global peace. The US is the only country to locate its nuclear weapons outside its own borders and this major increase in NATO’s capacity to wage nuclear war in Europe is dangerously destabilising. Their return will increase global tensions and put Britain on the front line in a NATO/Russia war.”

* Read Hans Kristensen’s blog here.

* Sources Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Federation of American Scientists