The British nuclear stockpile, 1953–2013

Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “The British nuclear stockpile, 1953–2013“, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2013, 69 (4)

Recent research has revealed new facts about the British nuclear arsenal over a 25-year period starting in 1953. This accounting and the authors’ own research support an estimate that the British produced about 1,250 nuclear warheads between 1953 and 2013. From a peak of about 500 warheads in the period between 1974 and 1981, the UK arsenal has now been reduced to some 225 weapons.

Research released over the last few years has disclosed new facts about the size, composition, and evolution of the British nuclear stockpile. In his report “British Nuclear Weapon Stockpiles, 1953–1978,” arms control historian John R. Walker (2011) drew upon official declassified documents at the National Archives at Kew, UK, to provide an accounting of the British stockpile over a 25-year period early in the Cold War.

In light of this new information, we now estimate that the British produced approximately 1,200 warheads of nine types from 1953 to 2013, plus an additional 45 test devices or test weapons, for a total of some 1,250. This represents an increase from our earlier estimate that approximately 850 warheads were built. This new figure is equivalent to about 2 percent of the 66,500 warheads that the United States has produced (Norris and Kristensen, 2009). During the peak years of 1974 to 1981, the British stockpile included approximately 500 warheads. The peak total yield was approximately 150 megatons in 1967.

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