The hidden history of Hinkley nuclear project’s connection with nuclear weapons

Hinkley’s Hidden History , 18 Aug 2016 Morning Star 
With the government decision over the new reactor at Hinkley postponed,
nuclear historian DAVID LOWRY reveals how the British nuclear power and weapons programmes were born together – and have yet to be separated  
THE first nuclear power plant on the Hinkley Point site in Somerset was built in the 1960s.

At the time, the United States, was intimately involved in the planning. Why was this?

The first public hint is to be found in a statement by the Ministry of Defence on June 17 1958 on “the production of plutonium suitable for weapons in the new [nuclear] power stations programme as an insurance against future defence needs” in Britain’s first-generation magnox reactor.

By chance, on the same day, France’s president Charles de Gaulle authorised a nuclear test to be held early the next year.

The site chosen was the Reganne oasis 700km south of Colomb Bechar in the Sahara Desert of Algeria.

France also used a magnox-style reactor at Chinon in the Loire Valley to make the plutonium explosives.

A week later in the British Parliament, Labour’s Roy Mason asked why the government had “decided to modify atomic power stations, primarily planned for peaceful purposes, to produce high-grade plutonium for war weapons” and “to what extent this will interfere with the atomic power programme?”

He was informed by paymaster general Reginald Maudling: “At the request of the government, the Central Electricity Generating Board has agreed to a small modification in the design of Hinkley Point and of the next two stations in its programme so as to enable plutonium suitable for military purposes to be extracted should the need arise…….

The headline story in the Bridgwater Mercury, serving the community around Hinkley was: “MILITARY PLUTONIUM To be manufactured at Hinkley.”

The article explained: “An ingenious method has been designed for changing the plant without reducing the output of electricity.”

The CND was reported to be critical, describing this as a “distressing step,” insisting: “The government is obsessed with a nuclear militarism which seems insane.”

Sadly, with the blinkered push to replace Trident today, not much seems to have changed in the 55 years since……

on July 3 1958, Britain and the US signed a detailed agreement on co-operation on nuclear weapons development, after several months of congressional hearings in Washington DC — but, significantly, with no oversight whatsoever in Parliament.

As this formed the basis, within a mere five years, for Britain obtaining the Polaris nuclear WMD system from the US, and some 20-odd years later for Britain to buy US Trident WMD, the failure of Parliament to at least appraise the security merits of this bilateral atomic arrangement was unconscionable……

Following further detailed negotiations, the Ango-American Mutual Defense Agreement on Atomic Energy matters (defence is spelled with an “s” even in the British version of the treaty, demonstrating the origin of the drafts), to give it its full treaty title, was amended on May 7 1959, to permit the exchange of nuclear explosive material for military purposes.
The Times science correspondent wrote on May 8 1959 under the headline: “Production of weapons at short notice” that “the most important technical fact behind the agreement is that of civil grade — such as will be produced in British civil nuclear power stations — can now be used in weapons.”……

And so it may be seen that Britain’s first civil nuclear programme was used as a source of nuclear explosive plutonium for the US military, with Hinkley Point A the prime provider.
Two decades later, Wales national daily, the Western Mail, reported on October 8 1984 that the largest magnox reactor in Britain, at Wylfa on Anglesey, had also been used to provide plutonium for the military.

Plutonium from both reactors went into the British military stockpile of nuclear explosives and could well still be part of the British Trident warhead stockpile today.

Subsequent research by the Scientists Against Nuclear Arms, published in the prestigious science weekly journal Nature, has demonstrated that around 6,700kg of plutonium was shipped to the US under the military exchange agreement, which stipulates explicitly that the material must be used for military purposes by the recipient country.

To put this quantity into context, a nuclear warhead contains around 5kg of plutonium so this is a very significant quantity.

What would Iran and North Korea make of this deliberate intermixing of civil and military nuclear programmes by one of the nuclear weapons superpowers which leads the criticisms of them for allegedly doing this very thing today?

Dr David Lowry is senior research fellow at the Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts. http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-dabf-Hinkleys-hidden-history#.V7dqoFt97Gg

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