The cost of Britain’s nuclear weapons is skyrocketing, as a new report reveals that Britain’s nuclear weapons will account for almost a third of military procurement spending over the next decade.
Published this week by the National Audit Office, the The Equipment Plan 2023–2033 report found that the budget for the Defence Nuclear Organisation saw its “costs increased by £38.2 billion (62 percent) to £99.5 billion” in 2023. Founded in 2016, the DNO is a body within the Ministry of Defence that oversees what’s called Britain’s Nuclear Defence Enterprise – ie. nuclear weapons infrastructure, procurement, research, equipment – including the delivery of Britain’s new nuclear-armed Dreadnought-class submarines.
In total, £109.8 billion is budgeted for nuclear-related spending over the ten year period from 2023-2033. However, the NAO report notes that the MoD already expects this to rise to £117.8 billion, £7.9 billion more than originally allocated. The MoD has defended the increase, arguing that by front-loading the spending, it will help speed up the delivery of Dreadnought and therefore save money by avoiding delays and cost-overruns.
However, the Treasury is already anticipating further increases. The NAO report said that past 2025 “there are significant uncertainties in long-term nuclear costings and funding.” The Treasury has already increased spending on nuclear weapons by £2 billion per annum and will consider additional funds in the next Spending Review.
The push to speed up the Dreadnought programme comes amid serious concerns with the existing fleet of Vanguard-class subs. Only two of the four vessels – HMS Vigilant and Vengeance – are currently operational and have been forced to undergo longer missions. In September, one was spotted returning to port covered in barnacles and slime after a record six month patrol. This additional attrition from repeated and extended missions has prompted concerns that the end life of these subs has been accelerated.
This strain has already led to a number of near-fatal accidents. Earlier this year an electrical fire broke out on one, forcing it to resurface and return to port. Another saw a faulty depth gauge result in the vessel continuing to dive and almost approached crush depth before submariners noticed the equipment had malfunctioned and corrected course.
The cost of maintaining the decaying Vanguard fleet is also spiraling. A major refit of HMS Vanguard was supposed to cost between £150-200 million and be completed within three years. It only returned to base this summer after seven years and at a cost of over £500 million. It is still not ready for patrol.
CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said:
“Spending on Britain’s nuclear weapons is well and truly out of control and has to stop. We have a climate emergency to tackle, a cost-of-living crisis to end, and crumbling public services to fix. Yet the government thinks that spending ever-increasing sums on new nuclear weapons is the priority – all at the expense of the public it is supposed to protect. There is no evidence to back up the claim that nuclear weapons keep us safe. They actually make us a nuclear target and building new ones just fuels a new nuclear arms race and an increasing risk of nuclear war. It’s time to end the madness and get rid of them once and for all.”
Image: BAE Systems