LONDON, March 13 (UPI) -- The British government is considering developing a new nuclear deterrent and may even have started to deploy it.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has failed to confirm or deny a report that a new British nuclear weapons system is already being secretly developed.
Asked about the report in this week's Sunday Times newspaper about a replacement for the Trident submarine-launched nuclear missile system, Straw said: "We are giving consideration to the development of a new system."
Plans to replace Trident, which some estimate will cost £20 billion, are expected to be drawn up by the next British general election. And Blair has promised MPs the "fullest possible" debate before any decision, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported Monday.
The Sunday Times said an anonymous senior British source had told it work on the weapon has already been underway since Blair was re-elected to a thrid consecutive term of office in May 2005. According to the paper, the research is being carried out at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, Berkshire.
The Sunday Times said British government scientists wanted to produce a warhead using proven components to avoid breaching a ban on nuclear testing.
Straw said Britain was "entitled to have a nuclear weapons system," and had reduced the numbers of systems it had from three to one.
Blair's official spokesman later said: "We are in a process of thinking about thinking about it," but he added, "not this month and not next month," the BBC said.
Last month Blair told a committee of senior MPs there would be the "fullest possible" debate on any decision to develop a new nuclear warhead. But he said his Labor Party was committed to keeping Britain's nuclear deterrent.