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– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
United Kingdom

Compliance with Nuclear Arms Control and Nonproliferation Norms Is Eroding, New Study Finds

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All nuclear weapons possessor states failed to make progress to reduce their nuclear arsenals; Key states’ records in nine of 10 nonproliferation & disarmament categories have deteriorated.

For Immediate Release: July 10, 2019

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—A new, 80-page study published by the Arms Control Association evaluates the recent records of all the world’s nuclear-armed states, as well as several states of proliferation concern and finds that respect for key nuclear nonproliferation norms and internationally-recognized obligations and commitments is eroding.

The report, "Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2016-2019," is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition of the Arms Control Association’s Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament Report Card covering the 2013–2016 period.

The study comprehensively evaluates the records of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—each of which possesses nuclear weapons—as well as Iran and Syria, which are states of proliferation concern, from 2016 through March 2019.

“Each of the states that possess nuclear weapons is taking steps to invest in new delivery systems and several are expanding the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines," noted Alicia Sanders-Zakre, a co-author of the report. "These trends increase the risk of nuclear weapons use,” she warned.

“Our review of actions—and inactions—by these 11 states suggest a worrisome trend away from long-standing, effective arms control and nonproliferation efforts," warned Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and co-author of the report. "By documenting the policies of these states over the last decade, we hope this report will demonstrate that support for critical nonproliferation and disarmament norms is eroding.”  

Several of the key findings include:

  • The United States and Russia: The overall grades for both the United States (C+) and Russia (C+) dropped, due partly to Russia’s violation of a key bilateral arms control treaty and the U.S. decision to withdraw from that treaty in response. Both states also expanded the circumstances under which they would use nuclear weapons and are investing in new, destabilizing delivery systems.
     
  • France and the United Kingdom: These two states received the highest overall grades (B) of the 11 states assessed, but neither country has taken steps during the period covered in this report to make additional nuclear force reductions.
     
  • China, India, and Pakistan: All three of these states are increasing the size of their nuclear arsenals and are investing in new nuclear-capable delivery systems. New missiles being developed and fielded by all three suggest that these countries are now storing warheads mated with certain missiles or moving toward that step, which increases the risk of use. China’s overall grade was a C+; India and Pakistan both scored C.
     
  • North Korea: North Korea scored the worst of the states assessed in this report with an overall grade of F. Pyongyang continues to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal and is the only state to have tested a nuclear weapon during the timeframe covered. However, North Korea continues to abide by a voluntary nuclear and missile testing moratorium declared in April 2018 and appears willing to negotiate with the United States over its nuclear weapons program.
     
  • Iran: Through the period covered by this report and until June 2019, Tehran continued to adhere to the restrictions on its nuclear activities put in place by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal over the course of this report, despite the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement last year and its decision to reimpose sanctions in violation of U.S. commitments. Iran, however, has transferred ballistic missile components in violation of international norms and Security Council restrictions, causing its overall grade to drop to C-.
     
  • Israel: Israeli actions over the past several years in support of ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty earned it a higher grade on the nuclear testing criteria, but its inaction on the Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and backsliding on negative security assurances caused its overall grade to drop to a C-.

The report reviews implementation and compliance with existing internationally-recognized obligations and commitments.

“The standards and benchmarks in our report do not necessarily represent our ideal strategy for addressing the nuclear weapons threat,” noted Davenport. “New and more ambitious multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament strategies will be needed to meet to future nuclear challenges,” she remarked.

Last week, the U.S. State Department convened a meeting involving more than three-dozen countries, including the five original nuclear weapon states, to discuss steps to improve the environment for nuclear disarmament.

“We hope this report card can serve as a tool to help hold states accountable to their existing commitments and encourage effective action needed to strengthen efforts to prevent the spread and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons,” noted Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. 

“We encourage all states who are serious about strengthening the global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament enterprise to commit themselves to meet and exceed the existing goals and objectives to reduce and eliminate the nuclear danger,” he urged.

The full report can be accessed at www.armscontrol.org/reports

Description: 

A new report details the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime. 

Subject Resources:

Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament: 2016-2019 Report Card

This report is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime during the period between 2016 and June 2019.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition, which covered the 2013–2016 period.

Download this report.

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: The United Kingdom

July 2019

Updated: July 2019

The United Kingdom maintains an arsenal of 215 nuclear weapons and has reduced its deployed strategic warheads to 120, which are fielded solely by its Vanguard-class submarines under its maritime-only deterrence strategy. The UK is actively reducing its nuclear stockpile and plans to reach 180 nuclear weapons by the mid-2020s, which will represent a 65 percent reduction since the height of the Cold War. The British government’s standard practice is to have one submarine on deterrent patrol at any given time, though it claims the missiles are not on alert and would take several days of preparation before launching.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Ballistic Missile Defense Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

 


Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1968

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

1998

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1981

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

---

2010

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1996

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1975

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

2009

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signatory, entered into force in 2004

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Participant

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

The United Kingdom has filed the requested reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

The United Kingdom (UK), as of July 2019, maintains a military stockpile of 200 nuclear weapons for its sea-only deterrent, with 120 of those warheads deployed, of which no more than 40 are at sea on Vanguard-class submarines at any given time.
 
The UK has the smallest deployed arsenal of the nuclear weapons states and has committed to reducing its nuclear stockpile. In October 2010, the UK government announced plans to reduce its total nuclear weapons stockpile to 180 weapons by the mid-2020s. It reaffirmed this commitment in its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which outlines the UK’s strategy through 2025, and is currently iterated on the UK government nuclear deterrence fact sheet which was last updated in February 2018. 
 
Upon successful reduction down to 180 nuclear warheads, the UK will have achieved a 65 percent reduction in the size of its overall nuclear stockpiles since the height of the Cold War. The UK is currently undergoing a nuclear arsenal modernization program, primarily to replace its Vanguard-class submarines with the Dreadnought-class submarines by the early 2030s
 

Delivery Systems

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  • The United Kingdom does not possess ICBMs.


Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

Submarines:

  • The British military currently operates four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). Each submarine is capable of carrying 16 Trident D5 missiles and each of these missiles carry up to three 100 kiloton warheads. As of 2019, each submarine carries a maximum of eight Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
  • One submarine is always out at sea on deterrent patrol. The missiles aboard the Vanguard, however, are not on alert and require several days of preparation prior to launching.
  • The Vanguard SSBNs are housed at Her Majesty's Naval Base (HMNB) Clyde off the shore of Gare Loch in Scotland.
  • At the cornerstone of the UK’s nuclear weapons modernization ambitions, the British government is to replace the Vanguard-class submarines with what was formerly known as the Successor submarine program. This new submarine was named the Dreadnought-class in October 2016, and is expected to have a lifespan of at least 30 years. According to a November 2018 report by BASIC Institute, the UK government has estimated that the Dreadnought program will cost £31 billion with an additional £10 billion contingency. Over the 30-year lifetime of a new system that emerges into service in 2031, the total in-service costs could range between £71.4 billion and £140.5 billion. 
  • In June 2012, the British government awarded a contract to Rolls-Royce to build two new nuclear submarine reactor cores. The second of these cores is for the first Successor class vessel.
  • In October 2016, construction of the first new submarine began under BAE Systems and has been named the HMS Dreadnought. The Dreadnought will be the Royal Navy’s largest-ever submarine at 17,200 metric tons, 1,300 metric tonnes heavier than the Vanguard. It will be only be fitted with 12 missile tubes for the Trident D5 instead of 16.
  • The British Royal Navy has announced that the Dreadnought-class ballistic missile submarines will be named: HMS King George VI, HMS Dreadnought, HMS Valiant, and HMS Warspite.
  • There exists debate over whether or not to carry out this program. Opposition to modernization plans are chiefly due to its high cost (it is slated to be the largest British military project in history), time commitment, prevailing pro-disarmament sentiments, and safety concerns.
  • Scottish, Welsh, and Irish nationalist parties are also generally pro-disarmament. In addition, the future of the UK’s nuclear weapons could have been jeopardized by the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 as its nuclear submarines are housed at HMNB Clyde in Scotland and the Scottish Nationalist Party vowed to scrap the Vanguard-class submarines if Scotland obtained independence.
Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs):
 
  • British nuclear warheads are only deployed on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
  • The United Kingdom maintains one type of ballistic missile system in its arsenal for delivering nuclear warheads: the U.S.-leased Trident II (D5) SLBM, which has an estimated range of roughly 7,400-12,000 kilometers. The UK’s Trident D5 missiles are equipped with British warheads similar to the United States’ W76 100 kilotons warheads.
  • The Trident D5 is planned to remain in service until the early 2040s following a life extension program. Decisions for a replacement warhead have been deferred until later this decade and the current warhead is expected to last into the late 2030s.

Strategic Bombers

  • The United Kingdom does not possess nuclear capable aircraft.
  • Britain’s dismantlement of the Royal Air Force’s gravity based nuclear bombs in 1998 marked the beginning of its maritime-only deterrence strategy.

Ballistic Missile Defense Systems

The United Kingdom is part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), a collective missile defense system operated by NATO allies. To learn more, see: "The European Phased Adaptive Approach at a Glance."

Fissile Material

  • In April 1995, the UK ceased production of separated plutonium and the British government declared that it no longer produces fissile material for weapons.

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • The UK halted the production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in 1963. As of January 2019, the British government is estimated to maintain a military stockpile of approximately 3.2 metric tons of plutonium and 21.2 metric tons of HEU.
  • The UK's civilan stockpile of HEU is roughly 1.4 metric tons.

Plutonium

  • The United Kingdom possesses the world’s largest stockpile of civilian plutonium, with over 110.3 metric tons designated for this purpose, as of February 2018.
  • As of 2018, the UK has two reprocessing plants. The B205 plutonium reprocessing plant, which reprocesses fuel from the Magnox reactors in Sellafield, England, is expected to be fully decommissioned by 2020. The Thermal Oxide Reprocessing plant (THORP) which reprocesses mixed oxide fuel is on track to be shut down, as announced by the UK government in November 2018. 
  • According to the Houses of Parliament 2016 report, “Managing the UK Plutonium Stockpile,” the country stores approximately 23 metric tons of foreign-owned plutonium, the majority of which belongs to Japan.

Proliferation Record

  • The UK is not known to have deliberately or significantly contributed to the spread of biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons to other states.
  • The UK is, officially, an active promoter of nonproliferation and is a leading member in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Australia Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and the Zangger Committee as well as the Proliferation Security Initiative.
  • The UK has been involved in both Iranian and Libyan nonproliferation processes and continues to support the creation of an effective and verifiable chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.   

Nuclear Doctrine
In its 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review document, the British government reaffirmed a commitment not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) subject to certain conditions regarding their behavior and alliances. Nevertheless, this 2015 document notes that the government reserves the right to “review this assurance if the future threat, development or proliferation of these weapons make it necessary.” The document also states that “We will continue to keep our nuclear posture under constant review in the light of the international security environment and the actions of potential adversaries.” London refuses to rule out the first use of nuclear weapons, but has stated that it would only employ such arms in self-defense and “even then only in extreme circumstances.”

The 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review also states that “we will remain deliberately ambiguous about precisely when, how and at what scale we would contemplate their use, in order to not simplify the calculations of any potential aggressor.”

The British government’s standard practice is to have one submarine on deterrent patrol at any given time. The government claims the missiles aboard the submarine are not on alert and that launching a missile would take several days of preparation.

TestingThe United Kingdom has conducted 45 nuclear weapon tests. The first test occurred on October 3, 1952, and the last took place November 26, 1991. The United Kingdom was the third country to conduct a nuclear test. 

Biological Weapons

  • The United Kingdom had an active biological warfare program from 1934 to 1956.
  • As part of that program, the United Kingdom weaponized anthrax and researched plague, typhoid fever, and botulinum toxin.
  • The United Kingdom ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) in March 1975 and has reaffirmed its support for the BWC in 2005.
  • Today, the British government operates an extensive and sophisticated defensive program that includes research on potentially offensive pathogens.

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Chemical Weapons

  • During World War I, the United Kingdom produced an arsenal of chlorine and mustard gases.
  • In 1957 the UK abandoned its chemical weapons program and has since eradicated its stockpiles.
  • The UK ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1996 and has provided financial assistance to countries such as Russia, in 2001, to destroy their chemical weapons stockpiles.

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
The United Kingdom regularly participates in the CD, established in 1979 by the international community as a multilateral disarmament negotiating forum. In July 2009, the British government announced its report on nuclear nonproliferation entitled “The Road to 2010” at the CD. In 2010, the UK called for negotiations on an Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) to be moved to the United Nations General Assembly where it could be endorsed by a majority vote.  

In 2016, the UK proposed the creation of a working group and program of work to discuss effective disarmament measures. In 2019, at the first CD session in February the United Kingdom was the president of the Conference, the first time since 2008. Following the conclusion of its presidency, the UK Ambassador to the CD noted in a blog that the proposal to adopt “Subsidiary Bodies” for each of the ‘core items’ of CD business failed due to six nations who refused to endorse it. He lamented that, “A third of the way through the 2019 session, there’s no plan in place for conducting detailed discussions on the core issues.”
 

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
The United Kingdom has ratified protocols to the Latin American and the Caribbean, South Pacific, African, and Central Asian nuclear weapons free zone treaties pledging not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the treaty's member states. However, the UK maintains reservations to each of these protocols. It has not ratified the Southeast Asia nuclear weapons free zone treaty.  At a March 19 event, Ambassador David Hall stressed the UK’s continued commitment towards the establishment of the zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction (WMDFZ) in the Middle East as well as its readiness to engage in a “renewed, inclusive, balanced, and results-oriented dialogue,” highlighting a option to reconvene a regional conference based on the 2010 NPT mandate, while emphasizing that the UK would not support initiatives which excluded “any states in the region.”

Nuclear Security Summits
British participation in the Nuclear Security Summits includes the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC, the 2012 NSS in Seoul, the 2014 NSS in The Hague, and the 2016 NSS held again in Washington, DC.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

London has engaged in a series of nonproliferation negotiations with Iran, including the most recent rounds of the P5+1 talks over Iran’s nuclear activities. The British government supported ratcheting up sanctions on Iran to persuade it to halt certain activities, particularly uranium enrichment. This included a European Union-wide ban on importing Iranian oil that went into effect July 1, 2012. The UK participated in negotiations on the JCPOA in July 2015 which both limits Iran’s nuclear program and puts in place more intrusive monitoring mechanisms in exchange for sanctions relief. Then Prime Minister David Cameron said that the deal would "make our world a safer place." Despite the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, British Prime Minister Theresa May said the deal “should stay in place.”
 
In January 2019, France and Germany and the United Kingdom established the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) to facilitate trade with Iran. INSTEX was designed to create a financial channel to Iran immune from U.S. sanctions reimposed when the Trump administration withdrew from the deal.

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Country Profiles

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Saudi Arms Sales Hit Hurdles in U.S., UK


July/August 2019
By Ethan Kessler and Jeff Abramson

U.S. and UK leaders received rare rebukes on the same day in June to their plans to sell conventional arms to Saudi Arabia, highlighting the challenges that Riyadh’s top two arms suppliers face in justifying their support for the kingdom and its allies.

Displaced Yemeni children carry water containers at a camp in the country's Hajjah province on June 23. The U.S. Senate voted June 20 to halt $8.1 billion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its partners in the conflict in Yemen. (Photo: Essa Ahmed/AFP/Getty Images)The Republican-led U.S. Senate voted June 20 to block issuing licenses for $8.1 billion in arms sales to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that had been previously promised by the Trump administration. Senators approved two resolutions, each by a 53-45 vote with seven Republican senators in support, and 20 resolutions en bloc by a 51–45 vote with five Republican senators voting in favor. The resolutions came in response to the administration’s use of emergency powers to bypass the normal congressional notification process on 22 arms sales agreements. The House is expected to pass similar resolutions of disapproval.

The legislative action echoes earlier congressional efforts to curb U.S. military support for Saudi combat activity in Yemen as lawmakers have expressed concern about the humanitarian consequences of the war in Yemen and the Trump administration’s muted response to the Saudi killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a commentator for The Washington Post. Congress approved a resolution in March under the War Powers Act to limit U.S. military action in Yemen, but it could not muster enough votes to overrule President Donald Trump’s veto of the resolution. Trump is expected to veto the June resolutions as well. (See ACT, June 2019.)

Aspects of the planned arms sales faced early opposition from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who placed a hold in 2018 on precision-guided munition sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, acting during a customary informal period that precedes formal notification. (See ACT, September 2018.) On May 24, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo invoked a provision in the 1976 Arms Export Control Act (AECA) to allow the administration to conclude the sales, citing the need to “deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity.” The declaration allowed the president to bypass Menendez's hold and a formal 30-day review process, using authority under the AECA to expedite arms sales to foreign governments if the president declares that “an emergency exists which requires the proposed sale in the national security interest of the United States.”

That emergency authority has been used three times in the past, according to R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on June 12. He argued the sales sent a “loud and clear message to Iran that we stand by our regional partners.”

At that hearing, Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) flatly declared that “there is no emergency,” saying that “a real emergency would require weapons that can be delivered immediately...not months or even years from now, as these do.” Cooper agreed that some of the sales would take place over a longer time frame, but said that others are “happening now, and actually, it’s happened prior to this hearing.” It appears that precision-guided munitions would be among the first weapons to be delivered.

Menendez also sought to send a message to the region. “If the Senate wants to show the world that even if you are an ally you cannot kill with impunity, this is the moment,” he said before the June 20 vote. He urged his colleagues to “stand up for the proposition that we won’t let our bombs fall upon innocent civilians and have the moral responsibility which will be a blemish on our history for years to come.”

With Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Menendez and five other senators first introduced the 22 joint resolutions of disapproval on June 5. Such resolutions have been rarely introduced, and their passage by both chambers is exceedingly rare. None has survived a presidential veto.

The pushback against arms sales to Saudi Arabia also extended to the United Kingdom, Riyadh's second-largest arms supplier. The UK Court of Appeal determined on June 20 that the government had failed to sufficiently scrutinize the Saudi-led coalition’s adherence to international humanitarian law, in violation of UK and EU law. In a press summary of their ruling, the judges said the UK government “made no concluded assessments” of the Saudi-led coalition’s record in Yemen, nor did it try to do so. Instead, the government had assessed Saudi “attitude” and engaged Riyadh in an attempt to avoid breaches of law and civilian casualties. The court found that approach insufficient and directed the government to reassess past decisions and change this practice moving forward. The court did not ban any arms transfers, but the UK government said June 25 that while it was reviewing the decision it would “not grant any new licenses for exports to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners (UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Egypt) which might be used in the conflict in Yemen.”

U.S. and UK leaders face domestic hurdles to their efforts to sell Saudi Arabia conventional weapons.

U.S., UK Complete Largest HEU Repatriation


June 2019
By Tien-Chi Lu

The United Kingdom has completed the transfer of nearly 700 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to the United States, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced May 3. The multiyear project removed the U.S.-origin material from Scotland’s Dounreay nuclear facility, which is undergoing decommissioning. The uranium has been moved to the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where it will be blended down and used as fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors.

Safety foreman Leslie Jones works at the construction site of the Dounreay fast reactor in 1957. Now undergoing decommissioning, the nuclear complex has returned 700 kilograms of highly enriched uranium to the United States. (Photo: Central Press/Getty Images)“The successful completion of the complex work to transfer HEU signaled the conclusion of an important part of the program to decommission and clean up Dounreay Site,” said David Peattie, chief executive officer of the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Among other activities, the Dounreay facility historically used HEU to produce materials needed to manufacture isotopes for medical purposes. In conjunction with the repatriation project, the United States has agreed to provide nuclear materials to other European facilities to support the continued production of medical isotopes.

HEU contains at least 20 percent of the uranium-235 isotope, and percentages above this threshold are considered potentially useful for nuclear weapons if available in sufficient quantities. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, international concerns rose about security measures at civilian facilities using HEU, such as university research reactors, and the United States and Russia agreed in 2009 to consolidate and secure HEU the two nations had provided to friendly nations in earlier decades.

“As a nonproliferation measure, the UK transfer is modest in the sense that it is moving weapons-usable material between two nuclear-weapon states. Nonetheless, the consolidation and ultimate down-blending of this material will yield important nuclear security benefits,” said Miles Pomper, a nuclear security specialist at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

The Dounreay transfer is the largest amount of material to have been repatriated from a single facility. To date, 6,713 kilograms of HEU from 47 countries plus Taiwan have been disposed of or repatriated, an NNSA spokesperson told Arms Control Today. Thirty-three countries and Taiwan are now HEU-free, which is defined as possessing less than one kilogram of HEU. Plans call for completing nearly all repatriations to the United States this year and to Russia by 2022.

Seven hundred kilograms of highly enriched uranium return to the United States in a multiyear nuclear security project.

UK Names Two Russians in Novichok Poisonings


October 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The United Kingdom charged two Russian nationals on Sept. 5 with the attempted murder in March of former spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia using the nerve agent Novichok, bolstering its case that the Russian government instigated the crime.

In a police photo released September 5, Novichok poisoning suspects are shown on CCTV in Salisbury, UK, March 4. The two men, Russian nationals using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are suspects in the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.  (Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images)According to the UK investigation, the two men, who traveled under the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. The accusation resulted from a months-long UK police investigation, including the analysis of more than 10,000 hours of CCTV videos.

The UK previously accused the Russian government, but had not identified individual suspects. (See ACT, April 2018.)

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking in Parliament, said on Sept. 5 that the latest finding proves even more definitively Russian government culpability. She vowed to press for the creation of a new EU chemical weapons sanctions regime and to empower the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to “attribute chemical weapons to other states beyond Syria.” The OPCW was granted the mandate to investigate the responsible party for chemical attacks in Syria in June. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

European nations and the United States have taken steps in response to the attacks, which included expelling hundreds of Russian diplomats and enacting new sanctions. In November, the United States is expected to adopt still harsher sanctions against Russia for its chemical weapons use unless the government admits its guilt, forswears future use, and allows international inspectors to verify its assurances. (See ACT, September 2018.)

At a UN Security Council meeting on Sept. 9 called by the UK, several nations supported the UK’s conclusions and called for strengthening the Chemical Weapons Convention, the 1993 accord that bans chemical weapons. Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia dismissed the allegations a “crazy cocktail of unfounded lies,” continuing a pattern of denial of Russian and Syrian chemical weapons use.

In an interview on Russia’s government-funded news channel RT, the two suspects claimed they had visited Salisbury twice as tourists to see the city’s famous cathedral. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the men were civilians. “We, of course, checked who these people are. There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you,” Putin stated at an economic forum on Sept. 12.

UK newspapers have reported that a UK-based investigative website, Bellingcat, independently has obtained documentation showing that the names appear to be cover identities linked to the Russian security services and that plane tickets to the UK were bought at the last minute, not as part of a long-planned vacation, as the men claimed.

Laboratory tests by the OPCW confirmed on Sept. 4 the UK’s finding that Novichok was also the chemical agent that killed Dawn Sturgess and injured Charlie Rowley on June 30 in Amesbury. Sturgess and Rowley appear to have been poisoned accidentally by picking up a discarded perfume bottle that held the remains of the nerve agent used on the Skripals.

The two Russians are also “prime suspects” for the Amesbury incident given the link between the two events, May said in her Parliament remarks. The UK has issued Interpol red notices and domestic and European arrest warrants, although the men cannot be arrested and brought to trial as long as they remain in Russia.

The Skripal assassination attempt was “not a rogue operation,” says UK Prime Minister May.

UK Passes Safeguards Bill


The United Kingdom passed a nuclear safeguards bill and signed a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in preparation for withdrawal from the European Union in March 2019.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano and David Hall, resident representative of the United Kingdom to the IAEA, shake hands following the signing of UK’s additional protocol at IAEA headquarters in Vienna June 7.  (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)The UK’s exit from the EU includes withdrawing from Euratom, a body established by a 1957 treaty to coordinate European civil nuclear research and power and conduct safeguards in conjunction with the IAEA.

The UK, as a recognized nuclear-weapon state under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, does not have the same legal obligation to conclude a safeguards agreement as non-nuclear weapon states, but London reached a voluntary safeguards agreement with the IAEA and Euratom for its civil program in 1978 and concluded an additional protocol to strengthen its IAEA safeguards in 2004.

The UK’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA, signed June 7, replaces the Euratom arrangements and helps ensure that inspection and verification activities continue uninterrupted. The safeguards bill enables the UK to establish a domestic safeguards regime.

Richard Harrington, UK minister for business and industry, said that the new agreements emphasize the UK’s “continued commitment” to safeguards and nonproliferation and demonstrate that the country will continue to act as a “responsible nuclear state.”

Concluding a safeguards agreement was also critical for reaching new nuclear cooperation agreements to replace Euratom arrangements that facilitate the UK’s importation of nuclear materials necessary for its civil nuclear program. The House of Lords had warned in a January report that failure to reach a safeguards arrangement would have “severe consequences for the UK’s energy security.”

Suella Braverman, parliamentary undersecretary of state at the UK Department for Exiting the European Union, said on June 7 that the agreements “help ensure our cooperation with third countries in the field of nuclear energy” and provide confidence that there will be “no disruptions” when the UK exits the EU.
—KELSEY DAVENPORT

UK Passes Safeguards Bill

Funds Released for UK Nuclear Subs


UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced in Parliament on March 28 an unexpected boost for defense spending: an extra £600 million ($850 million) for the new Dreadnought class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). The funds, allocated for fiscal year 2019, will be withdrawn from the £10 billion ($14.2 billion) contingency fund set aside for the Dreadnought program in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review. The use of the contingency funds follows a supplemental £200 million Defence Ministry budget increase announced in February.

UK protesters rallied July 18, 2016, against spending on a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines.  (Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)The Dreadnought program will comprise four new submarines designed to replace the United Kingdom’s existing Vanguard-class SSBNs, which are responsible for the country’s nuclear deterrence. Construction on the first submarine began in September 2016. The mainstay of the submarine will be the Common Missile Compartment (CMC), which is designed to support not-yet-developed ballistic missiles that will succeed the Trident D5 nuclear-armed ballistic missile. The CMC will contain 12 missile launch tubes and will house Trident D5s until their replacement in the early 2040s. The first Vanguard-class SSBN will reach the end of its extended service life in 2028, and the first Dreadnought submarine is expected to enter service in the early 2030s. The total cost of the Dreadnought program is estimated at £31 billion ($43.9 billion), and the submarines will have service lives of 30 years.—RYAN FEDASIUK

Funds Released for UK Nuclear Subs

Banned Russian Toxin Used in UK Attack


April 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

An attempted assassination of a former Russian spy with a highly lethal Russian-developed nerve agent calls into question Moscow’s compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and threatens to further undermine the norm against chemical weapons use.

The United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the United States were the first to accuse the Russian government of carrying out the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, UK, on March 4 using the chemical agent Novichok. As a consequence, the United States announced March 26 that it was expelling 60 Russian diplomats, joining more than 20 European countries taking similar actions to punish Moscow.

A police officer in a protective suit and mask works near the scene where former double-agent Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia were found after being attacked with a nerve agent on March 16, 2018 in Salisbury, UK. (Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

 

“No country except Russia has the combined capability in chemical warfare, intent to weaponize this agent, and motive to target the principal victim,” UK Prime Minister Theresa May wrote in a March 13 letter to the president of the UN Security Council.

The Russian government has initiated assassinations on UK soil previously, including the targeted killing of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko by a radioactive isotope in London in 2006, which President Vladimir Putin allegedly authorized.

Alexander Shulgin, Russian permanent representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), derided UK accusations as “nothing but fiction and another instance of the dirty information war being waged on Russia,” during a March 13 OPCW Executive Council meeting. Although the UK asserted that Russian responsibility is “highly likely,” most members of the UN Security Council are less confident and, at a March 14 emergency meeting called by the UK, requested that the OPCW conduct an independent investigation.

The UK notified the OPCW Technical Secretariat of the attack on March 8 and OPCW experts subsequently were deployed to the UK to collect samples. The results of the analysis, which will not assign blame, could come by mid-April at the earliest, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü said at a briefing at the UN on March 20.

The Soviet Union developed Novichok secretly in the 1970s and 1980s, after which Russia inherited the program. Its existence was publicly revealed only when Soviet scientist Vil Mirzayanov leaked the project to the press in the 1990s. Novichok reportedly is more lethal than known nerve agents sarin and VX.

The March 4 attack would constitute its first known use, although some chemical weapons experts told The New York Times that the agent could have been used in assassinations in the past but not recognized.

Novichok affects victims through skin exposure or inhalation. Like other nerve agents, Novichok exposure inhibits certain neurotransmitters that relay messages to nerves, eventually resulting in muscle spasms, organ failure, and death from suffocation or heart failure.

The OPCW, the implementing body of the CWC, announced that Russia destroyed its entire declared chemical weapons arsenal in September 2017. Russia did not declare Novichok agents as part of its chemical weapons arsenal when it joined the convention. Vassily Nebenzia, Russian permanent representative to the United Nations, at the UN Security Council on March 14 denied that Russia possesses any Novichok agent.

If Russia is confirmed as responsible, it would mean that Russia not only failed to declare its entire arsenal to the OPCW but also that it retained a part of its arsenal after the OPCW verified that it had destroyed it. That would constitute a “major case of non-compliance with the treaty that would need to be remedied in short order to maintain confidence in the efficacy of the treaty and the OPCW,” Gregory Koblentz, director of the Biodefense Graduate Program in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, told Arms Control Today in a March 16 email.

In a March 12 address to Parliament, May urged Russia to disclose its Novichok program to the OPCW in order to return to compliance with the CWC. Russia also would need to allow the OPCW to monitor the destruction of any remaining chemical weapons stocks or provide “credible evidence” of chemical weapons and production facilities destruction to the OPCW, Koblentz said.

At a March 14 meeting of the UN Security Council, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, demanded that the body “take immediate, concrete measures” to address Russian noncompliance, although council action may be challenging given Russia’s veto power.

Investigations could be mandated instead through the secretary-general’s mechanism, said Andrew Weber, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, in a March 15 email to Arms Control Today.

The use of Novichok in the UK occurred as the norm against chemical weapons use may be eroding globally due to ongoing use of chemical weapons by Syria, a CWC state-party, and North Korea’s use of VX to assassinate Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia last year.

To prevent norm erosion, chemical weapons users must be held to account, Weber and Koblentz said. Koblentz pointed to the International Partnership Against the Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, launched in Paris in January, as a useful tool for “marshaling international support to punish and prosecute perpetrators” of chemical weapons attacks. Although the initiative was launched largely in response to chemical weapons use in Syria, its work applies to chemical weapons use globally. (See ACT, March 2018.)

“The use of chemical weapons anywhere erodes the norm everywhere,” said Koblentz.

Assassination attempt indicates Russia has a nerve agent in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

UK Debates Plans for Euratom Exit

A vote by the House of Lords set back UK efforts to replace nuclear arrangements provided by a treaty from which London will withdraw as part of Brexit. The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union includes withdrawing from Euratom, a body established by a 1957 treaty to coordinate civil nuclear research and power and conduct safeguards.

The UK will need to reach new bilateral cooperation agreements and revise its nuclear safeguards to replace Euratom measures by March 2019. (See ACT, July/August 2017.) However, the House of Lords on March 20 rejected the government’s plan by a 265-194 vote, with members expressing concern that it did not provide enough assurance that the importation of nuclear materials for civilian applications would not be interrupted.

A Jan. 29 report from a House of Lords subcommittee concluded that failure to replace the Euratom provisions could “result in the UK being unable to import nuclear materials and have severe consequences for the UK's energy security.” The report recommended that the government prioritize reaching a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is necessary for new bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements. The report emphasized the importance of reaching new agreements with Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States to ensure that nuclear supply chains can be maintained.

Members also raised the issue of continued UK participation in research and development projects supported by Euratom and recommended that the government look into ensuring the continued viability of research projects in the UK financed in part by Euratom.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

UK Debates Plans for Euratom Exit

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