The History of the UK Nuclear Weapons Programme

This timeline has been prepared by Nuclear Information Service to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the first atomic test by the United Kingdom on 3 October 1952. It outlines key events in the development of the UK's nuclear weapons programme from the decision to begin research into atomic weapons during World War II to the current debate on whether to replace the UK's Trident nuclear weapons.

;xNLx;;xNLx;For more information on current developments in the UK's nuclear weapons programme please visit;xNLx;;xNLx;;xNLx;For further details about the history of the UK nuclear weapons programme the following reading is recommended:;xNLx;;xNLx;‘Britain and the H-Bomb’ by Lorna Arnold with Katherine Pyne (Palgrave 2001). ;xNLx;'Cabinets and the Bomb' by Peter Hennessy (Oxford University Press 2007);xNLx;'U.S.-UK Nuclear Co-operation after 50 Years' edited by Jenifer Mackby and Paul Cornish (CSIS Press, 2008);xNLx;;xNLx;;xNLx;Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of information in the timeline and trace copyright owners for images used in the timeline. If you would like to suggest any corrections or provide further information on copyright holders we would be very pleased to hear from you. Please contact us at office (at)

US agrees to sell Trident to the UK

At a meeting in Guadeloupe, US President Jimmy Carter indicates to Prime Minister James Callaghan that he is prepared to sell Trident to the UK.

Britain begins work on the atom bomb

Britain begins work on developing an atomic bomb - the first nation in the world to do so. The 'Maud Committee' is established to consider how to harness nuclear energy for weapons use and how to separate uranium 235 from natural uranium for use in a weapon.

The Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project on nuclear weapons research and development produces the world's first atomic bomb in the USA. The UK joins the project in 1943, contributing scientists and expertise from the Tube Alloys project.

Directorate of Tube Alloys

The clandestine Directorate of Tube Alloys is set up to continue the UK's research into development of an atomic bomb.

Quebec Agreement

Britain, Canada, and the USA sign the Quebec Agreement “to bring the Tube Alloys [i.e. the Atomic Bomb] project to fruition at the earliest moment”. Work continues under the auspices of the USA's Manhattan Project.

Atomic Energy Research Establishment

The Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE) is established at Harwell as the main centre for military and civilian atomic energy research and development in Britain.

Work restarts on the British atomic bomb project

Work officially restarts on the British atomic bomb project following World War 2. The decision is taken at a secret Cabinet subcommittee set up by Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Ernest Bevin, then Foreign Secretary, argues that Britain must develop the bomb in order to maintain its status with the USA, allegedly saying: 'We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs. We’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack on top of it.'

Fort Halstead

Fort Halstead in Kent becomes the base for the High Explosives Research team, headed by Chief Superintendent Armaments Research William Penney, which will eventually design Britain’s first atomic bomb.

AWRE Aldermaston

The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) opens at the former RAF Aldermaston airfield in Berkshire as the new headquarters of the British atomic weapon programme under the directorship of William Penney

First British atom bomb test

Operation Hurricane, the first British atomic bomb test, takes place in the Montebello Islands off the north west coast of Australia.

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