The possible return of US nuclear weapons to RAF Lakenheath after 14 years has been condemned by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

It comes amid reports that the US Department of Defense has added the UK to a list of NATO nuclear weapons storage locations in Europe being upgraded under a multi-million dollar infrastructure programme.

The UK’s inclusion in the budget was first spotted by Hans Kristensen, the director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). Kristensen believes the base in question is RAF Lakenheath, located just 100 km from London.

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“The addition of the United Kingdom to the list of nuclear storage locations being upgraded in Europe signals a change in the nuclear status of RAF Lakenheath,” wrote Kristensen. He added: “It is unclear if nuclear weapons have been returned to the base yet or NATO is upgrading the base to be capable of receiving nuclear weapons in the future if necessary.”

Image of inside an aircraft shelter at RAF Lackeheath with a label showing where the
A ceremony at RAF Lakenheath held inside an aircraft shelter with an (empty) underground nuclear weapons vault. There are 33 vaults at the base.
Credit: Image created by Hans Kristiansen / FAS with original picture from USAF
A return to the past

RAF Lakenheath hosted US nuclear weapons for more than five decades, first arriving in September 1954. By the time of their removal in 2008, the site had 33 underground storage vaults and stored around 110 B61 gravity bombs that could be dropped from F-15E warplanes based there.

Lakenheath received the latest nuclear- capable fighter – the F-35A – in December 2021 and a total of 24 F-35As are expected to be based there.  Training with the latest B61-12 guided nuclear bomb will commence within the year.

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said the introduction of more free-fall nuclear bombs to Europe was extremely dangerous and destabilising: “News that US nuclear weapons may already be back in Britain, at RAF/USAF Lakenheath, makes the UK once again a forward nuclear base for the US in Europe. 110 US free-fall B61 nuclear bombs were removed from Lakenheath in 2008, following sustained protest at the base by CND and the Lakenheath Action Group. Reports of nuclear exercises at Lakenheath increase the likelihood that nuclear weapons are already back, or are on their way, and within the next year US/NATO nuclear bases in Europe will also receive the new B61-12 guided nuclear bomb.

These bombs are assigned to NATO and the return of US nuclear weapons to Britain – along with the upgrading of its nuclear weapons across Europe – constitutes a further undermining of prospects for global peace. The US is the only country to locate its nuclear weapons outside its own borders and this major increase in NATO’s capacity to wage nuclear war in Europe is dangerously destabilising. Their return will increase global tensions and put Britain on the front line in a NATO/Russia war.”