Sixty years of British nuclear weapons

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Sir William Penney

To mark the sixtieth anniversary of the first UK atomic test explosion – ‘Operation Hurricane’ at the Monte Bello islands off the north-west coast of Australia in October 1952 - Nuclear Information Service has prepared an interactive timeline showing the history of the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons programme.

The timeline shows the importance of key events in the British nuclear weapons programme – both political and technical – from World War Two, when the UK first commenced research into atomic weapons, looking forward to the forthcoming decision on whether to replace Trident which will be taken after the next election. It also shows how international events have influenced the UK's nuclear programme over six decades.

The timeline is available to view online here.

Peter Burt, Director of Nuclear Information Service said: ‘A look back over the history of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme shows that modern nuclear policies are significantly different to those of the Cold War years. Since the Berlin Wall fell, the UK has gradually reduced the number of weapons systems and warheads in its arsenal. Through pioneering developments such as the UK-Norway Initiative, aimed at developing techniques for disarmament verification, the UK is slowly moving towards becoming a ‘disarmament laboratory’ and is beginning to look forward to the time when the vision of a world without nuclear weapons has been realised.

“Despite the government’s current plans to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system - which stands out as a major anachronism in the post-Cold War climate – the trend shows the UK moving slowly in the direction of nuclear disarmament. No-one can predict what will happen in the future, but the long term economic situation and uncertainties over Scotland’s future mean that there is a high chance that the UK will further downgrade its nuclear posture and possibly even renounce nuclear weapons by the end of this decade.”

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