‘Truly shocking’: UK has enough plutonium to make almost 20,000 nukes via Nuclear Free Local Authorities


The 2023 Fissile Material Directory [1] is published in June each year by the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA) [2], based at Nagasaki University. RECNA has been established for over twenty years as an educational and research institute at a university that has a medical faculty with a first-hand experience of the horror of nuclear weapons. Its primary goal is achieving a world free from nuclear weapons.

In January, the institute was visited by UK/Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities Secretary Richard Outram, where he met Vice-Director Professor Tatsujiro Suzuki.

The study lists the UK as holding 119.7 tons of plutonium, the second highest stockpile in the world after Russia with 191.5 tons, and 22.6 tons of Highly Enriched Uranium. The plutonium stockpile is said to be sufficient to arm 19,947 atom bombs, like the ‘Fat Man’ bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, whilst the uranium stockpile has the potential to be turned into a further 355 devices comparable to the ‘Little Boy’ bomb dropped on Hiroshima three days earlier.

The Nagasaki bomb is estimated to have killed 35,000 – 40,000 people on the day and the Hiroshima bomb about twice that many.

The UK Government and nuclear industry has conceded in the 2022 UK Radioactive Material Inventory that 113 tons of UK-owned plutonium are currently managed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, whilst a further 4 tons are in semi-assembled MOX or other fuel components. An additional 24 tons of foreign-owned plutonium are also held, a further legacy of the costly failure of the UK’s experiment with reprocessing.[3]

Across the world, RECNA estimates that 552 tons of plutonium and 1,260 tons of HEU are held, much of the latter in military hands. These are all deemed to be fissile materials and together could arm 92,000 plutonium bombs like the one used at Nagasaki and almost 20,000 uranium devices like that deployed at Hiroshima.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities are gravely concerned about the future use of Britain’s plutonium stockpile. In recent weeks, the UK Government and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority have published plans suggesting that some of this material should be used as fuel for a new generation of nuclear reactors.

The NFLA fears that burning plutonium as fuel will simply lead to the creation of more nuclear waste, that such material could be a target for terrorists or hostile state actors, especially in transit, and that these actions could lead to nuclear weapon proliferation. In its response to the government and industry plan the NFLA called for fissile material to be put ‘beyond use’ for all time.[4]

Responding to the RECNA report, Councillor Lawrence O’Neill, Chair of the NFLA Steering Committee, said:

“The data published by RECNA is both astonishing and truly shocking. If only a tiny fraction of Britain’s stockpile of fissile materials ended up in the wrong hands for use by terrorists or in military action then the consequences could be too awful to contemplate. In the UK, and elsewhere in the world, anti-nuclear campaigners need to continue to work together to lobby our respective governments to make these stockpiles safe and beyond use, and the time to do that is now.”

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