The Ministry of Defence has recently admitted to transporting materials used in the manufacture and maintenance of nuclear weapons between the UK and the US 23 times over the last five years.
This development to the ongoing debate over the UK’s renewal of the existing Trident strategic deterrent system took place last week, when the Scottish National Party Defence Spokesperson Brendan O’Hara MP asked the MoD on how often nuclear material flights over the UK took place. O’Hara had asked the question in response to the recent publications of details on exercises held in 2011 and 2012 by the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator, one of which, codenamed Exercise Astral Bend, centred on the spread of nuclear material from an aircraft crash in Wales.
The MoD’s statement on the nuclear flights was made by Minister for the Armed Forces Penny Mordaunt, who said in the written statement to the House of Commons on the 24th February that:
“In the last five years, 23 flights carrying Defence Nuclear Materials (DNM) were undertaken. All flights were between the UK and the United States on fixed wing aircraft under the control of UK Armed Forces. No such flights passed over Scotland, or involved the use of helicopters. I am withholding details of the physical state, mass and radiological quantity of DNM transported as disclosure would or would be likely to prejudice national security.”
She went on to address potential safety concerns in the statement, saying:
“The transport of DNM is carried out to the highest standard in accordance with stringent safety regulations. In over 50 years of transporting DNM in the UK, there has never been an incident that has posed any radiation hazard to the public or to the environment.”
Under the mutual defence agreement between the US and the UK regarding the two nations’ submarine deterrent programs, material is transported to and from the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston. These flights are presumed to have taken place from RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, where RAF long range transport assets are based.
Further information on the UK’s deterrent program and control of strategic assets is available here: https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/uk-retains-full-operational-control-over-trident/