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Meet The Man With His Finger On The Nuclear Button

Lt Cmdr Woods said it would be an "honour and a burden" to fire a 60-tonne missile with 12 nuclear warheads.

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It looks like the handle of a gun from the Time Crisis arcade game, but this is the device that would launch a nuclear warhead from a British submarine.

Danny Lawson / PA Wire

Fortunately this is just a replica, the real trigger is locked away in a safe that only Lieutenant Commander Woods – his first name cannot be revealed – and his deputy know the combination for.

They serve on board the Vanguard-class submarine HMS Vigilant, which defence secretary Michael Fallon toured with journalists at HM Naval Base Clyde, at Faslane near Glasgow, on Thursday.

Danny Lawson / PA Wire

The submarine is one of four that make up Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent, which Labour is considering ending its decades-long support for and the Scottish National Party wants to scrap.

The visit on Vigilant was the first in 10 years, and allowed a glimpse into the process that would lead to the UK launching a nuclear missile, and the people who would be involved.

Danny Lawson / PA Wire

Woods said it would be an "honour and a burden" to press the button, which he says would only take place in a situation where the UK had been hit by a nuclear strike.

Danny Lawson / PA Wire

The strike would only be launched after the prime minister's order to fire had been verified, but Woods would not know the missile's target or the events that had let up to the deterrent failing.

"We have to act on the orders of our political lords and masters," he told the Telegraph.

"When we are at sea, we don't know the whole story and we have to trust that they know what they are doing."

Once the missile has been fired, there is no way back, no self-destruct function. Or, as father-of-three Woods describes it, "fire and forget".

Matthew Champion is a deputy world news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Matthew Champion at

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