UK launches ‘national endeavour’ to reinforce nuclear deterrent

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The UK government will launch a “national endeavour” to reinforce the country’s nuclear deterrent, including a promise to invest more than £760mn with industry over the next six years into critical skills and infrastructure.

Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, will on Monday also announce a separate £200mn investment into a “transformation fund” for Barrow-in-Furness, the Cumbrian town where Britain’s nuclear submarines are built by BAE Systems for the Royal Navy. Barrow has suffered from health inequalities, poor housing and some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country despite multiple attempts at lasting regeneration. 

The investments come as the government prepares to set out how it plans to sustain and modernise the UK’s nuclear deterrent in a new Defence Command Paper. It follows concerns that ageing infrastructure and a lack of investment were undermining the effectiveness of the deterrent, a cornerstone of Britain’s defence posture.

Ministers were forced last month to declare that the deterrent remained “safe, secure and effective” after a nuclear missile test failed when the Trident weapon crashed into the sea near the submarine that fired it. Adding to the embarrassment, defence secretary Grant Shapps was on board HMS Vanguard to witness the test launch which took place in January.

The Defence Command Paper will detail the government’s plans to bring new Dreadnought-class submarines into service in the early 2030s. The Dreadnoughts are due to replace the current Vanguard-class vessels which were commissioned into service in the mid-1990s. 

“Safeguarding the future of our nuclear deterrent and nuclear energy industry is a critical national endeavour,” Sunak will say on a visit to Barrow on Monday. 

“In a more dangerous and contested world, the UK’s continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent is more vital than ever. And nuclear delivers cheaper, cleaner homegrown energy for consumers.”

Investments into Britain’s nuclear capabilities and skills — both defence and civil — are seen as vital if the government is to build a new fleet of atomic power stations to bolster its energy security, as well as deliver on the new Dreadnought programme. The government is also committed to building a new generation of attack submarines under the trilateral Aukus pact with the US and Australia.

Aukus is seen by ministers as a key part of the government’s “levelling up” agenda to narrow regional economic differences. Cabinet minister Michael Gove name-checked Barrow in a speech in July, promising to make it a new “powerhouse of the North”.

Under the Barrow Transformation Fund the government will commit £20mn towards immediate projects, including supporting people towards work. This will be followed by a minimum of £20mn a year over 10 years to build more homes, develop the transport network and support local schools.

Britain’s nuclear industry will need an additional 123,000 people by 2030, according to the government. The £763mn investment, which includes more than £400mn from industry including BAE, Rolls-Royce, Babcock International and EDF, will create around 5,000 new apprenticeships over the next four years.


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