The US is about to announce the replacement of its submarine-launched nuclear warheads in a move that could shape Britain's planned £25bn upgrade for its Trident force.
Sources say UK scientists from the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston and its sister site at Burghfield may have helped the US to develop its reliable replacement warheads (RRW).
(from: The Herald)
A laser codenamed Orion, which it is claimed will simulate the instant of nuclear detonation, is being built at Aldermaston, which is visited regularly by US scientists working on "collaborative projects".
The RRW weapons are aimed at slashing an ageing US stockpile of 6000 strategic warheads by up to two-thirds and fitting devices to render them useless if they fall into terrorist hands.
The new, hybrid design is unproven and critics say it could need underground nuclear tests to verify reliability. This would break the 1992 international moratorium on live testing. It would also undermine arguments for preventing Iran, North Korea and other states from pursuing weapons programmes.
Computer simulation has been used for two decades to check whether existing warheads remain fit for purpose, but experts say the only certain way to find out if a newly-designed warhead would work is to explode one.
If the White House gives the go-ahead for the RRW scheme next week, production would begin in 2012.
Britain's "independent" nuclear strike force relies on access to a shared pool of Trident D5 missiles at King's Bay, Georgia, and warheads carried by the UK's Vanguard submarines are based on US W76 weapon designs.
Nigel Chamberlain of the British American Security Information Council, a think-tank based in London and Washington, Aldermaston, said "We firmly believe that British scientists are aiding development of a new generation of nuclear weapons."
Aldermaston began hiring 1000 extra scientists and technicians last year as part of an expansion of its research and development capabilities.