I am against the renewal of Trident.
I work in the civil nuclear industry.
These are not two opposing viewpoints, and let me explain why they aren’t.
We don’t need nuclear weapons. We are a civilized post-Cold War nation, living in a world that is fraught with an entirely different war of our day. The nations of the world who have weapons of mass destruction have all stated that they won’t use them. They are a deterrent, and as explained by those who voted for them in Parliament, for those who believe we should have the power to annihilate the world, that having them puts off people launching theirs against us. We police the rest of the world who is developing them because we don’t want them to have them, yet at the same time pledge £100 to £200 billion on building new ones.
There is no conceivable place in the world’s stage that the UK should be where it needs to have these weapons either. I have one child and another on the way, and the idea my country wants the power to destroy and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent lives for the sake of some sort of Mutuall Assured Destruction, one where the only end game is the end of the world, makes no sense to me. How do you explain that to children? How do you explain that to the other nations of the world?
The UK, as a nation, looks at the levels of gun crime in the US and says “Look at them, why don’t the just get rid of guns!”. The answer to that is not buy more guns, but to limit the sale and control those already out there. In our scenario, we’ve decided that we don’t like the world having guns, but we’re buying more of them because it makes us “safer”. We don’t need guns; we need to get rid of the guns. The money being spent on the system is even at the low end is astonishing; it is £100 billion at the low estimate (with others saying closer to £200 billion, but let’s not get over exaggerated).
Let’s consider the idea that it could be used as a deterrent in the future – against what threat? We have only one major enemy, and that is terrorists, who don’t care about hundreds of thousands of dead, they fight an ideological battle. They fight for the 20 to 100 dead, which can then be used to further their ideological war. Us having the ability to scorch the earth is beyond their worries, because we’ll never use them. It isn’t a detterent when you can’t conceive of a scenario in which to use it. I have a huge stick to beat you with, but it’s too heavy to pick up. It’d kill me if I was going to pick it up.
The final argument is that Scotland should be so lucky – we’re offering you billions of pounds of investment and jobs for thousands of people on the Clyde at the base, why wouldn’t you want it? The protection of workers and public sector contracts appears to only be in the interests of the Conservative government when it is related to defence. Scotland doesn’t want it though; twice now, the SNP have won the position in Scotland of government, taking 56 of 59 seats in Westminster in 2010 and winning minority parliament in the 2016 Holyrood Election, on a principled stand against nuclear renewal that runs deep in the party’s history. They all voted against it. In fact, even in Holyrood the Labour and SNP MSPs united in a motion against the renewal. Indeed, not only did all the SNP MPs vote against it, the two who with drew from the whip voted for it, as did both the Lib Dem and Labour MPs at Westminster, leaving only the Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell voting with his party’s whip.
That’s pretty overwhelming to be honest.
So how does this tally with myself, working within the nuclear industry? The place where I work was integral in the development of the nuclear warheads that lead to the UK gaining the nuclear powers we have today. It was also instrumental in our pioneering experiments with nuclear reactor technology too, with the first ever commercial power station coming online in the UK thanks to the developments there. I see the two as entirely different industries; it is true that some plants in the world create weapons-grade plutonium for warheads, but the site I work on doesn’t do that. Instead, my role is entirely to clean it up. The legacy left behind by those pioneers is, as it almost always is, a tough one to clear up. In the early days of any industry the future is hard to see. Mines left open cast ponds of terrible ground water pollution. Early oil platforms are looking almost impossible to decommission fully and remove from the sea. Even old industries, like farming, has caused irreparable damage to the earth. The plan is to not let that happen to nuclear sites, and the costs are eyewatering – indeed, the actually match Trident’s renewal budget, coincidentally.
You might disagree with me. You might disagree with me that nuclear energy is the best option for us. I don’t mind that you do. What I do mind is something the Scottish people expressedly don’t want being foisted upon them. You know, like Austerity. Or Brexit. Or Trident.