DEFENCE chiefs have spent more than £100 million trying to decide whether to replace or refurbish Britain’s nuclear warheads, according to new figures.

SNP MP Ronnie Cowan has described the figures – given to him in answer to a parliamentary question – as “deeply worrying” and campaigners have slammed the “waste of money”.

The UK has more than 200 nuclear warheads which can be fitted to Trident missiles on one of the four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered submarines based at Faslane on the Clyde.

MPs approved an estimated spend of £31 billion in 2016 on four replacement Dreadnought subs, the first of which is expected to be deployed at Faslane – which will be home to all 11 Royal Navy submarines from 2020 – in the early 2030s.

These will have an anticipated lifespan of at least 30 years.

Ministers are expected to decide before 2022 whether new warheads should be built for the submarines or whether the existing weapons can be refurbished to extend their lifespan.

Guto Bebb, parliamentary under-secretary at the MoD, responded to Cowan’s enquiry: “As of the end of the last financial year (March 2017), the Ministry of Defence had spent £100.7m on studies to inform the decision on whether to refurbish or replace the existing warhead.

“This figure consists of £93.7m on technology studies to support refurbishment of the current system and explore options for a potential future warhead and £7m on studies to support the decision whether to refurbish or replace the existing warhead.

“Studies related to Re-entry Systems Options to determine the best approach to be taken are continuing.”

Cowan’s Inverclyde constituency overlooks the Faslane base, and he said he was worried by the Government’s indecision.

“As I’ve previously stated, the issue of Trident nuclear weapons is a very real one for my constituents in Inverclyde who live within the near vicinity of these weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

“Therefore, I continue to ask the Ministry of Defence for clarity around their operations and strategy.

“Previously I have raised health and safety concerns alongside staff welfare issues.

“It’s telling and deeply worrying to learn through a response to my parliamentary question, asked in conjunction with CND, that the UK Government have spent £100m on deciding whether to refurbish or replace Trident.”

Cowan added: “The defence footprint in Scotland is at a historic low and the UK Government should be prioritising conventional forces in its defence spending.

“Rather they are spending exorbitant sums of money on deciding whether they should refurbish or replace Trident.

“The people of Scotland have shown clearly and consistently that they are opposed to the renewal of nuclear weapons.”

A spokesperson for the anti-nuclear campaign Scottish CND described the spending as “throwing good money after bad”, especially at a time when the United Nations has already passed a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

“When there’s been a global ban on nuclear weapons, Scotland’s hosting weapons that we don’t want, why is any money being spent on their refurbishment or the replacement,” said the spokesperson.

“Between the ban and other developments which might happen, we’re likely to get rid of them one way or another, so it’s a ridiculous waste of money.”

Britain’s nuclear “bomb factory”, the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire, is where much of the research has been carried out.

Under MoD plans, new submarine schools being established at Faslane – the UK’s submarine hub – will offer academic and technical training for all RN personnel entering the service from 2022.

The MoD said it means that all submariners’ careers, whether afloat or ashore, will be principally conducted from Faslane as part of a £1.3 billion investment in creating the Clyde hub.

A spokesperson for the MoD said: “Work is ongoing on Trident warhead replacement options and these studies are part of this continuing work.”