The government has "stack-ed the deck" in favour of an immediate decision to replace the Trident submarine fleet that carries Britain's nuclear deterrent, according to one of the US's most eminent physicists.
Richard Garwin, principal architect of the first US hydrogen bomb design and a long-standing consultant to successive US administrations on security matters, says the decision announced by the government in December to build three or four submarines to replace the existing Vanguard-class ships is "highly premature".
From: Financial Times
The government says a decision is needed now because it will take 17 years to design and build the replacements and the oldest ship will go out of service in 2022.
But Mr Garwin and three other respected US scientists argue that the government has not provided enough information to assess whether the ships will indeed need to be scrapped at this point.
"You have to lay out the various options and then choose from among them rather than stacking the deck in favour of replacement," he said yesterday in a telephone interview from the US. Asked if the government had stacked the deck, he said: "They certainly are doing that. I doubt that it's been thought through. It's certainly not been presented in detail for an informed decision."
Mr Garwin, an expert on submarine design, will give evidence today to the House of Commons defence select committee and present a paper by him and the three scientists: Philip Coyle, Theodore Postol and Frank von Hippel. Parliament is due to discuss the issue in March.
The scientists, all arms control proponents, cast doubt on the principal plank of the government's argument that major components of the submarines, particularly the steam power nuclear generators that power them, have only a 25-year life.
They say defence systems or components can often be safely operated long beyond their design life and that the steam generators' lives could be sharply increased by improved management of water chemistry, the subject of a big US research programme that could presum-ably be shared with the UK.
They also argue that the government should not casually dismiss the prospect of replacing the generators, thereby adding 10 to 15 years to the submarines' lives. Mr Garwin says a hole could easily be cut into the hulls to replace the generators without damaging the ships' strength.