In a letter in today’s Guardian 36 science professors are calling on the Prime Minister to protect core science funding - by cutting government investment in developing new nuclear weapons. We asked Stuart Parkinson, co-ordinator of the letter, to tell us what it’s all about...
As the announcement of the government’s spending review gets ever closer, the lobbying to defend this or that area of public spending is becoming more and more intense.
One group arguing their corner has been my own - scientific researchers. In recent weeks professional science institutions and their allies have been rightly emphasising the value to society and the economy of scientific research and development. Indeed on Saturday hundreds took part in a mass demo outside the treasury calling for science research to be protected from cuts.
However, one issue that hasn’t been mentioned in the debate until today is that billions of pounds of government scientific research and development money is currently being spent, not on trying to find cures for cancer or solutions to climate change, but on new research facilities for nuclear weapons.
The situation is this - total public spending on science R&D in the UK is currently about £8bn a year. Of this, more than £2bn is spent by the Ministry of Defence. While the exact breakdown of this £2bn is kept secret, we do know that it includes a large fraction of the multi-billion pound redevelopment programme at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston - a programme that this year alone received an extra £1bn of government funds.
According to the AWE’s own literature, the aim of this redevelopment programme - which involves building high-tech facilities that can model nuclear weapons tests - is "to ensure that the existing [nuclear] warhead can be maintained for as long as necessary, and to enable the development of a successor warhead should one be required" . Many scientists view it differently. We believe that much of this kind of high-tech science programme is based squarely on developing new weapons - and that it undermines current initiatives to advance global nuclear disarmament.
This is why a group of over 30 British professors – including former President of the Royal Society, Sir Michael Atiyah and Nobel Prize Laureate, Sir Harold Kroto – have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister protesting at this situation.
The letter – co-ordinated by Scientists for Global Responsibility – calls for cuts to the AWE redevelopment programme and for the UK to take its nuclear warheads off deployment, place them in storage and cancel Trident replacement. Furthermore it argues that the overall level of public spending on military R&D is disproportionately high and that some of this funding should be diverted to support monitoring of arms control agreements, non-violent conflict resolution, and tackling the roots of conflict and insecurity.
We hope that mainstream science and technology organisations will support this call.
To find out more about Scientists for Global Responsibility and read the letter in full, visit http://www.sgr.org.uk.