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UK’s nuclear weapons being dismantled under disarmament obligations via the guardian

Three Trident warheads a year being taken from navy depot near Glasgow to private contractor in Berkshire to be decommissioned

Quietly, slowly and without any fuss, Britain is dismantling its nuclear weapons. Three Trident warheads a year are being moved from the Clyde to the home counties to be taken to pieces, according to evidence seen by the Guardian.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has revealed that it is overseeing a programme “to disassemble Trident warheads” at Burghfield in Berkshire, in a way that will prevent them from being put back together. This fulfils a government promise to cut the number of the nation’s nuclear weapons from 225 to 180 by the mid 2020s.

The latest monitoring of nuclear bomb convoys by activists suggests that in 2012 five warheads were sent by road to Burghfield from the royal naval armaments depot at Coulport on Loch Long near Glasgow. Two were refurbished and returned north, they said, while three stayed at Burghfield to be dismantled.

Ministers announced in June 2011 that Britain’s stockpile of nuclear weapons was being reduced by 45 to “no more than 180″ over about 15 years to comply with international disarmament obligations. Until now it’s not been clear what was happening to the warheads, with critics suspicious that they could just be disarmed and stored ready to be rearmed if necessary.

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As well as reducing the overall stockpile from 225 to 180, defence ministers have said that the number of “operational” warheads will drop from “fewer than 160″ to “no more than 120″. As a result fewer Trident missiles and warheads are being carried by Britain’s four nuclear-powered Vanguard-class submarines, based near Coulport at the Faslane naval base on Gareloch.

The warheads are regularly transported by road between Coulport and Burghfield in heavily guarded convoys. They are observed by activists from Nukewatch, which publishes annual reports charting the movements.

Its report for 2012, due out this week, will suggest that a minimum of three warheads were kept at Burghfield, while at least two others were returned to Coulport after refurbishment. A similar pattern was observed in 2011.

The MoD has not disclosed how much it is currently spending on decommissioning nuclear weapons. But in a parliamentary answer in 2006, it put the cost of dismantling all Trident warheads at £146.4m.

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