Renewing Trident

stock-photo-nuclear-explosion-in-an-outdoor-setting-symbol-of-environmental-protection-and-the-dangers-of-164761160I don’t know whether renewing Trident is a good ideal or a bad ideal but I’m willing to listen to the arguments. The trouble is what are the facts?

Today (16th Jan 2016) on BBC’s question time I heard Ann Widdicombe telling us that Trident costs just 6% of our defence budget. Yet another panellist asserted the bill is about £30 bn. I asked Google.

The Defence Budget for 2016 is £33.6 bn according to official Government statements. The latest Government estimate for replacing the 4 submarines is £31bn with a £10 bn contingency fund. Note that this is just for building the submarines it does not include the warheads, anti submarine measures, personnel or infrastructure costs. Some sources suggest that the total bill for Trident is well over £100 bn.

So Ann where does your 6% figure come from? It seems to me that Trident is reducing our conventional forces by a lot more than 6%.

One reason advanced on Question Time for replacing Trident is that the submarines are undetectable and so provide a deterrent. But do they? The New Scientist Magazine has a section in which you can ask technical questions for scientists reading it to answer.

I asked this question: “One argument for continuing the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet is that they are undetectable. Is that still true? And is it likely to be correct when replacement vessels are ready?”

I got two answers. Here is the first:

This is a controversial and often misunderstood issue. While nuclear-powered submarines have advantages in speed, range and submersion time, they are far from undetectable. Surprisingly, modern diesel submarines are often far quieter than their nuclear-powered counterparts.

The problem lies in the power plant itself. A nuclear reactor cannot be turned off and on like a diesel engine can. Although a nuclear submarine can rapidly stop its propeller, it wouldn’t shut down the reactor because of its long start-up and shut-down times.

When it is running, the reactor emits an acoustic and thermal signature which can be picked up by modern detection equipment. In contrast, diesel subs can shut down their entire propulsion system, lying almost completely silent on the bottom of the ocean.

Oxygen-free propulsion and battery technology in diesel submarines have improved vastly since the inception of the nuclear submarine, increasingly closing the gap between nuclear boats and their cheaper conventional counterparts.

Next-generation submarines promise to be even quieter, using hydrogen-cell propulsion and nanotechnological acoustic barriers. These vessels would be virtually undetectable using current anti-submarine military technology.

However no vessel can ever be truly “undetectable”. As submarine technology advances, so too will the techniques and technology used to find them.

Benjamin English
First Lieutenant, US Marine Corps
Pensacola, Florida, US

Here is the second:

Germany’s U-480 submarine used in the second world war was arguably the first stealth submarine. It was difficult to detect using sonar because it was coated in rubber that contained air pockets. The cat-and-mouse game has continued unabated ever since.

Submarines usually lurk on continental shelves, where they are difficult to detect against the clutter of sonar echoes off the surrounding underwater topography. Skilled submariners also position their boats amid water layers called thermoclines, where temperature changes abruptly, refracting sonar away.

Propellers are deliberately not spun so quickly that cavitation bubbles are created because when these bubbles collapse they create a tell-tale acoustic signature. And, during “silent running”, the crew will make minimal noise.

Meanwhile, modern techniques reduce acoustic signatures. Apart from quiet propulsion systems and running on electricity by direct current, deck structures are isolated from hulls with vibration-absorbing mountings and hulls have coatings that eliminate echo.

The joint Italian and German type 212A class submarines promise to be quieter still. Powered by Hydrogen fuel cells, they will radiate virtually no heat. They also use a non-magnetic construction, and it is claimed they will be nearly impossible to detect. Nano-coatings on the hull, designed to reduce fouling caused by organisms – and the associated turbulence that comes with it – might also guide sonar smoothly around the outside of the hull, making science-fiction’s cloaking device a possibility.

Mike Follows
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, UK

I’m not sure whether we should replace Trident or not. What I am sure of is that to make the right decision we need to know the truth. And we’re not being told it.

Bristol Green Capital 2015

Green logo


So how was it for you?

For George Ferguson the high point of 2015 was “having the privilege of representing Bristol as European Green Capital and star city at the successful Paris Climate Summit”. Well I’m really pleased you had a good time in Paris George, particularly as my taxes paid for it.

Personally I found our Green Capital year pointless and frustrating. When Stephen Williams got £7m from the government for Bristol, I had high hopes. We have a huge array of talent in the City. I understand Bristol West is supposed to have more Ph.Ds living in it than any other constituency. We ought to have made a real difference, but we didn’t.

I first heard about neighbourhood grants when I went to the Bishopston Neighbourhood partnership meeting on 11th September 2014. Unfortunately when I investigated I found that the deadline for applications in Bishopston was September 5th! Other places had longer submission periods but none more than six weeks away.

I had several ideals I should liked to have submitted but like most citizens I was excluded. There are some new wind turbines that are supposed to work in urban areas. Would’t it have been useful to get one and test it out? If I could have demonstrated it was cost effective how many others might have copied my example?

The biggest environmental problem we have is climate change. Transport is a big user of fossil fuels so anything that reduces fuel use would be worth investigating.

I should have liked to bring to Bristol a Denby Ecco trailer to show what is possible. This claims to reduce fuel use by artics by up to 15.8% and is in use in the Netherlands but blocked here. It would also be very good to demonstrate ULTRa PRT – after all it was designed here. However the criteria for transport in the small grants only allowed proposals to encourage “active transport such as walking and cycling” which will make no significant difference to climate change. So that excluded anything that would really make a difference.


Never mind they gave £37,500 to Bristol Ensemble for Treesong Bristol 2015. A project: “To create music from fruit falling from a tree – will be set up as a public display and a series of performances”. They chose a nut tree. Unfortunately the only “nuts” were the ones looking up and wondering where the nuts were!

We could make a real impact on climate change and Bristol with a modern 21st century transport system. The problem is that the people in charge refuse to look at anything invented later than 1900. I have long dreamed of organising a Festival of Future Transport to show the people of Bristol all the fantastic new ideals that are available.

£50,000 from the capital grants fund would be just the job. However I didn’t find out about these grants until 14th October. You had to register your intention to bid by 10th October and the full bid had to be in by 5th November. Even if I had known about these deadlines in September it would have been impossible to put together a bid for a project like the Festival of Future Transport in the time available.

I tried complaining about this to the Council. They sent me a letter saying I could still have applied even though I didn’t register an intent by 10th October as long as it was by the final date, 5th November. Unfortunately they wrote to me in March!

They gave £50,000 to the People’s Republic of Stoke Croft to: “Install shipping
containers at the Bearpit roundabout in Bristol and encourage local
artists to debate green issues through art form and growing produce on
site”. Much better value than a Festival of Future Transport I have to agree.

I could go on and on but this sounds like a rant already. Well it is a rant. The planet is cooking and we have been treated to ridiculous stunts like shining green searchlights at the suspension bridge and enveloping Pero’s bridge in mist. There is more chance of an Indian Rain-dance ending a drought than there is of shining green searchlights helping to combat climate change.

Worse we do not even know where all the money has gone. The £7m from government and £1.2m from the City Council was put into Bristol 2015 Ltd. As a private company this is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act or to scrutiny by our Councillors. It’s absolutely scandalous.

George Ferguson shouldn’t be wearing red trousers he should be wearing a bright red face!