On This Day, 1952: Britain Joins the Atomic Club

Today in 1952 off the coast of Northwest Australia, Britain joined a select club of nations in becoming the third country to successfully detonate a nuclear device.

Nuclear Detonation, Australia.
The devastating power of a nuclear detonation.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced to the nation and the world that British scientists had successfully detonated a 25-kiloton device, similar to the one dropped on Nagasaki some seven years before. Britain had long sought nuclear weapons and in an increasingly precarious world, felt that obtaining such weaponry would solidify their position as a world power.

Some five years later Britain would go on to detonate its first hydrogen device in 1957.

This success came about due to the work of over fifty British engineers and scientists, who had previously worked as part of the American Los Alamos program during World War Two.

Fast forward to 2017 and the issue of Britain’s nuclear arsenal is still one of debate. With over 200 nuclear warheads – most of which are carried by our submarine corps – the question of the necessity of nuclear weapons in the modern day is still deeply debated both in public and political forums.

Whether or not Trident is still a necessary deterrent in a world where danger increasingly lies in the hands of small paramilitary groups is an argument often presented by those in opposition to the program. In addition to this, justifying large sums of money on such weaponry during a time in which many are experiencing economic issues is also a talking point.

UK Trident Nuclear Missile
A Trident missile in action.

In 2016 however the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly – by 472 to 117 votes – to renew the Trident nuclear program at an estimated cost of £31bn. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon claimed that the renewal “puts doubt in the minds of our adversaries”.

 

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