Scientists’ letter urging MPs to vote against Trident renewal

Open letter published in Daily Telegraph, 15 July 2016
 

 

 

 

With David Cameron’s announcement of a parliamentary vote on the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system, we the undersigned British scientists and engineers call upon MPs to vote against retaining these weapons of mass destruction and support other actions to reduce the nuclear threat.

We are deeply concerned about the continuing global threat from nuclear weapons – which currently number over 15,000 in nine nations. [1] All nine nuclear-armed nations are currently engaged in modernisation programmes, with international tensions, terrorist activity and cyber-security threats all exacerbating the risks posed by these weapons. Yet at the same time renewed multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts – supported by most of the world’s countries through the United Nations – are making important progress. The UK government’s current position is to modernise Trident, but not to take part in these multilateral negotiations.

Hence we call upon MPs to press the UK government to:

1.       Take a full role in multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament. The UK should support new multilateral negotiations and join more than 130 other nations endorsing the UN Open Ended Working Group, which is working towards a treaty banning nuclear weapons. [2]

2.       End continuous patrols by Britain’s nuclear-armed Trident submarines, and put the weapons into storage. The UK’s current policy is to keep at least one Trident submarine on patrol 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Such a submarine carries nuclear weapons with more fire-power than all the bombs dropped in World War II, equivalent to around 300 Hiroshima bombs, and enough to cause at least 10 million casualties and a ‘nuclear winter’ – global climate disruption so severe it could lead to a famine for 2 billion people. [3] Such a system is not immune to technical or human error – of which there have been many during the nuclear age. [4] Nuclear deterrence postures cannot defend against such errors, creating a huge risk, especially given the growing cyber-security threats. Removing these weapons from deployment would provide a major impetus to the international multilateral negotiations described above.

3.       Use its political influence to strongly encourage US and Russian governments to take their nuclear weapons off ‘high-alert’ status. Senior military figures from across the world have recently spoken out about the considerable dangers of the current practice of the two leading nuclear powers that keep 1,800 nuclear weapons – enough to end civilisation many times over – able to be launched at a few minutes’ notice. [5] Such a practice is also increasingly vulnerable to cyber security threats.

4.       Cancel the Trident ‘successor’ programme. This programme would not only help to continue the dangers outlined above until at least the 2060s, but would also be hugely expensive. The renewal of the UK’s nuclear weapons system is now estimated (based on government figures) to be around £200 billion over its lifetime. [6] There are many other urgent demands on such a large sum – especially given increasing international instability due to problems ranging from climate change to aggressive religious fundamentalism. Furthermore, new technological developments in underwater drone technology and other anti-submarine warfare mean that nuclear-armed submarines will become increasingly vulnerable to conventional attack. [7]

As scientists and engineers – professions which are central to the development and deployment of nuclear weapons – we feel a particular responsibility to speak out. These weapons are uniquely dangerous and yet there is little urgency from the nuclear-armed nations to reduce the threat from the weapons they themselves deploy. This must change, and the UK could, and we think should, take a leading role.

 

Signatories

(All academic signatories are signing in a personal capacity - links to short biographies are also given below)
 

Sir Michael Atiyah OM FRS, Honorary Professor of Mathematics [academic webpage]

Keith Barnham, Emeritus Professor of Physics [SGR webpage; academic webpage]

Roy Butterfield, Emeritus Professor of Civil Engineering [SGR webpage; academic webpage]

Jon Crowcroft FRS FREng, Professor of Communications Systems [academic webpage]

Anne Christine Davis, Professor of Mathematical Physics [academic webpage]

John Finney, Emeritus Professor of Physics [academic webpage]

Denis Hall, Professor of Photonics [academic webpage]

Stephen Hawking CH CBE FRS, Professor of Gravitational Physics [SGR website; academic webpage]

Peter Higgs CH FRS, Emeritus Professor of Physics [academic webpage]

Jenny Nelson FRS, Professor of Physics [SGR website; academic webpage]

John Nye FRS, Emeritus Professor of Physics [SGR website; academic webpage]

Lawrence Paulson, Professor of Computational Logic [academic webapge]

William Powrie FREng, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering [SGR website; academic webpage]

Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience [academic webpage]

and

Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director, SGR [SGR webpage]

Dr Philip Webber, Chair, SGR [SGR webpage]

 

Web link to this letter as published in the Daily Telegraph
(NB scroll down this page to find the full text of the letter)

 

Notes and references

1. “over 15,000” nuclear weapons in “nine nations” – see:

Federation of American Scientists (2016). Status of World Nuclear Forces. http://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces/

2. “new multilateral negotiations” endorsed by “more than 130 other nations” via the UN Open Ended Working Group working “towards a treaty banning nuclear weapons” – see:

UN Office at Geneva (2015). Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations. http://www.unog.ch/oewg-ndn

ICAN (2016). Humanitarian Pledge. http://www.icanw.org/pledge/

3. One Trident submarine “carries nuclear weapons with more fire-power than all the bombs dropped in World War II, equivalent to around 300 Hiroshima bombs, and enough to cause at least 10 million casualties and a ‘nuclear winter’ – global climate disruption so severe it could lead to a famine for 2 billion people” – see:

Scientists for Global Responsibility (2015). UK nuclear weapons: a catastrophe in the making? http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/uk-nuclear-weapons-catastrophe-making

4. “Such a system is not immune to technical or human error – of which there have been many during the nuclear age” – see:

Chatham House (2014). Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy. https://www.chathamhouse.org/publications/papers/view/199200

BASIC (2016). A Primer on Trident’s Cyber Vulnerabilities. http://www.basicint.org/publications/aleem-datoo-paul-ingram-executive-director/2016/primer-trident%E2%80%99s-cyber-vulnerabilities

SGR (2015) – as note 3

5. “Senior military figures from across the world have recently spoken out about the considerable dangers of the current practice of the two leading nuclear powers that keep 1,800 nuclear weapons – enough to end civilisation many times over – able to be launched at a few minutes’ notice.” – see:

Global Zero (2015).Global Nuclear Risk Reduction. http://www.globalzero.org/get-the-facts/nuclear-risk-reduction

Federation of American Scientists (2016) – see note 1

6. “The renewal of the UK’s nuclear weapons system is now estimated (based on government figures) to be around £200 billion over its lifetime.” – see:

CND (2016). Trident and jobs. http://www.cnduk.org/information/briefings/trident-briefings/item/2464-trident-and-jobs-the-employment-implications-of-cancelling-trident-replacement

7. “new technological developments in underwater drone technology and other anti-submarine warfare mean that nuclear-armed submarines will become increasingly vulnerable to conventional attack.” – see:

BASIC (2016). Will Trident Still Work in the Future? http://www.basicint.org/publications/paul-ingram-executive-director/2016/will-trident-still-work-future