This seminar moves forward MoD’s commitment to greater openness across nuclear issues. Landmark progress was made in the Strategic Defence Review, (SDR), July 1998, when the UK became the first nuclear power to release information on holdings of fissile material. Applauded for its nuclear initiative by international figureheads including Kofi Annan (UN Secretary General), the SDR also clarified the scale of the UK’s operational nuclear stockpile, numbers of weapons deployed on Trident submarines, and the cost of nuclear programmes, all of which had previously been highly classified.
The major steps of SDR were announced as the first stage in a move towards nuclear transparency and proof of MoD’s concrete commitment to Open Government and Freedom of Information. Today’s event introduces the next stage.
Opening the seminar, Mr Spellar said:
"Today is a unique opportunity for fruitful discussion on how we might prioritise our efforts to ensure more information is made available to the public. In today’s security climate, we can preserve our defensive capabilities whilst at the same time releasing more nuclear-related information to the public domain.
"This accords with our policy of greater openness and we recognise that there is a legitimate public interest in my Department’s nuclear activities from the standpoint of what we have done in the past, what our policy is, what the costs are, and, most importantly, what are the safety and environmental implications."
The aim of UK nuclear transparency is to promote international openness and stability, helping to create the conditions, ultimately, for global nuclear reductions. There are of course inevitable and valid constraints on declassification.
MoD must obviously ensure that the information released does not undermine the credibility of our nuclear deterrent, equipping potential proliferators with the detail needed to develop nuclear weapons, or handing terrorists the material which could affect the physical security of UK nuclear weapons.
International obligations must be respected and finally, resources must be carefully harnessed. In the course of this initiative, MoD must navigate through an archive of 50 years of nuclear history and it is not possible to undertake a wholesale, retrospective release of historical or technical documents.
Those attending today’s seminar include Prof John Simpson of Southampton University, Dr Brian Siebert of US Department of Energy, Sir John Hill, former Chairman of UK Atomic Energy Authority and Lorna Arnold, author of ‘A Very Special Relationship – a history of the British atomic weapons trials.’
For further information please contact Kate O’ Connor at the Defence Press Office on 0171 218 7924.
The MoD web-site can be found at http://www.mod.uk