How Britain got the bomb
Michael S Goodman tells the story of how a war-ravaged nation detonated the most destructive weapon known to man
A farsighted move
Nuclear Britain: What happened after 1952?
The test of an atomic bomb in 1952 was the beginning, not the end, of Britain’s involvement in nuclear weapons. Even while scientists had been working on the atomic bomb, advanced atomic designs were being discussed, as were ideas for a hydrogen bomb. The technical leap from atomic to hydrogen weapons was as great as the jump to the first bomb. The increase in potency was significant: scientifically there is no upper limit to the destructive yield of a hydrogen bomb.
Britain entered the hydrogen club in May 1957. Shortly afterwards the US passed new legislation which made Britain and America partners, an agreement that is still in force today.
Edward Teller, the ‘father’ of the US hydrogen bomb, remarked at the time that: “We found that although they [the British] had devoted a fraction of time and money to their programme as compared with the US programme, their developments substantially parallel our own.”
From the 1950s onwards Britain continued to develop new, more sophisticated and more easily transportable nuclear weapons. As the scientific designs advanced so, too, did their means of delivery: from aeroplane to ground-launched ballistic missile to submarine-launched missile.
The current British nuclear deterrent is based on the Trident D5 missile, carried under the oceans by a number of Vanguard-class submarines. Both systems are set to be replaced when they expire, by which time the British nuclear deterrent will be nearing its centenary.