UK to set out strategy on nuclear non-proliferation

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will on Thursday set out plans to help ensure that countries can get access to civil nuclear power without it leading to an arms race, the prime minister’s spokesman said on Tuesday.

The publication of the strategy document comes after Russia and the United States last week agreed an aim of cutting deployed nuclear warheads.

However, the future of Britain’s Trident independent nuclear deterrent is not expected to figure prominently in the paper.

“Much of the focus is on how do we ensure that the non-nuclear countries can get access to civil nuclear power without that leading to proliferation in the development of nuclear weapons,” the spokesman said.

“Under the right circumstances and as part of a multilateral agreement we would of course be prepared to consider a reduction in our own nuclear warheads which have in any case fallen quite significantly in the last 10 years or so,” he added.

Britain has cut its nuclear arsenal by half in the past 12 years and now has fewer than 160 warheads available. It has the smallest arsenal of the five legally recognised nuclear weapons states.

A majority of British voters want to scrap nuclear weapons completely rather than replace the Trident missile programme as is currently planned, an opinion poll showed on Monday.

The ICM poll for Tuesday’s edition of the Guardian newspaper showed that 54 percent of all voters would prefer to abandon nuclear weapons rather than see the government put cash into a new generation of missiles.

Parliament gave the go-ahead in 2007 to government pans to replace the Trident submarine-based nuclear weapons system, due to go out of service in the 2020s, with a new system at a cost of up to 20 billion pounds.

But the financial crisis and recession, which has forced Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government to borrow on a huge scale, has reopened debate about whether Britain can afford the new weapon system.