COMMENT by Muriel Wood

I want to pay tribute to Hugh Jenkins, Lord Jenkins of Putney, shortly to celebrate his 90th birthday.

In certain circles it is fashionable to question the motives of politicians seeking high office, and ‘non-governmental organisations’ are increasingly seen as more democratic than the parliamentary process itself. In the face of all this cynicism Hugh Jenkins stands out as an example of unparalleled political integrity. We reproduce below his election address from the General Election of 1955, and from 1955 onwards his political career shows the tenacity, persistence and valour of a politician determined to keep the issue of peace and abolition of nuclear weapons in the forefront of political debate.

Only last December it was Lord Jenkins who was responsible for the House of Lords debate on Government nuclear weapons policy, briefly summarised in our March newsletter. If it had not been for Lord Jenkins’ initiative in seizing on the speech of the Pope’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations, Archbishop Martino, in favour of abolishing nuclear weapons, we should have been denied this opportunity for the public clarification of Government policy and also denied the opportunity of examining the ways in which the pro-nuclear lobby continue to justify their position.

The House of Lords Debate 17·12·1997

Lord Jenkins’ opening speech, in which he challenged the Government to demonstrate its active commitment to disarmament, we reproduced in March.

As the debate proceeded, the Bishop of Oxford stated a case for gradual multilateral disarmament; the impossibility of ‘un-inventing’ the bomb and the appalling consequences of the use of nuclear weapons making a wide-scale war less likely. Nevertheless as a Christian he was anxious to support aspirations towards a nuclear-free world and he listed a number of practical steps the Government could take to reduce the risk of nuclear war.

Lord Rea suggested that international reluctance to take meaningful steps towards nuclear disarmament was the result of lingering belief that possession of nuclear weapons in itself guaranteed international influence. He asked the Government to use Britain’s permanent membership of the Security Council to work “much more actively” towards total nuclear weapons elimination.

Lord Chalfont was predictably dismissive and maintained that nothing had changed in the nuclear disarmament debate since deadlock was reached in the 1960s. He had been personally involved in drafting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and he maintained that the treaty did not require the total elimination of nuclear weapons by the nuclear weapons states, but only their reduction in the context of “general and complete disarmament”. He condemned what he saw as frequent misrepresentation of this part of the treaty by the anti-nuclear lobby.

Lord Carver addressed the argument that it is only nuclear weapons that prevent a future ‘Third World War’ and concluded that total nuclear weapons elimination would generate greater stability than long-term retention of a low-level nuclear arsenal by the superpowers — which would inevitably lead to further proliferation.

Nuclear weapons are in his opinion of dubious value in countering threats of biological or chemical attack because governments will always have a credibility problem over their willingness to use them.

Britain’s nuclear weapons were in any case superfluous because there was no scenario in which the UK would launch an attack independently of the USA.

Lord Bramall supported Lord Carver, and reminded the House that he had in the past believed that nuclear weapons played a significant peace-keeping rôle. He claimed that the cost of British nuclear policy was impoverishing our conventional armed forces.

Lord Burnham criticised both these ex-Chiefs of Defence Staff for totally misunderstanding the nature of nuclear weapons. While there are dictators around the world we need nuclear weapons to ensure that free countries remain free — and CND, Lord Jenkins and the Papal Representative are worthy but unrealistic in their desire to get rid of them.

Baroness Symons, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Foreign Office, spoke for the Government. She quoted the Gallup Poll in which 87% of the public supported negotiations aimed at the abolition of nuclear weapons, asserting that the Government paid close attention to public opinion and was committed to ‘mutual, balanced and verifiable nuclear disarmament”. British policy was that the use of nuclear weapons was only permissible in circumstances of extreme self-defence and the Labour Government took a very different line from their predecessors in that it aimed to negotiate a final elimination of all nuclear weapons, including Trident, within the foreseeable future.

In his summing-up, Lord Jenkins declared himself entirely satisfied with the Government’s position on nuclear disarmament — with reservations only towards the speed with which events were taking place. His final plea was for a distinction to be made between “weapons of mass destruction and weapons which can reasonably be used in war” and a reminder that the same plea is being made by people all over the world, including leaders of the military.

MOX — Mixed Oxide Fuel

CND Chair Dave Knight mentioned the dangers of MOX when he visited Wimbledon in March. Once upon a time, the nuclear industry planned to use plutonium extracted from spent fuel as a fuel for Fast Breeder Reactors. However, Fast Breeder programmes have now been scrapped everywhere because of technical difficulties. So, what should be done with the plutonium?

BNFL’s answer is MOX — mixed oxide fuel, which it is now promoting as the saviour of the plutonium economy.

MOX is an abbreviation for a mixture of uranium and plutonium oxides that can be used as fuel in nuclear reactors. Currently BNFL has a MOX Demonstration Facility at Sellafield that has been in operation for the last three years. It produces just a small amount of MOX each year, mainly for a Swiss client. The much larger MOX Fabrication Plant is nearly complete and BNFL hope to start producing around 120 tonnes of MOX a year, starting this year. None of the British nuclear plant operators intend to use MOX because they do not consider it economic. So BNFL’s potential market for MOX fuel is overseas.

Plutonium is one of the most deadly substances on the planet. It is also an essential ingredient in nuclear bombs. BNFL plans to promote and sell MOX would help spread plutonium all over the world. CND believes that such an essential ingredient for nuclear weapons should remain under strict and effective international control. Plutonium should be ‘immobilised’ in glass (vitrified) or in ceramics, making future plutonium use much easier to control.

BNFL’s plans will also not help to reduce the ever-increasing amounts of plutonium stockpiled in the UK because of its continued commitment to nuclear reprocessing. Instead it will merely turn plutonium from one form (oxide) to another (MOX) and produce more plutonium in the process of irradiation in nuclear reactors.

On January 14th the Environment Agency announced a further round of consultation about whether BNFL should get the go-ahead to start operating the MOX plant. Although welcome, this new round of public consultation will only cover whether or not there is an economic case for producing and selling MOX.

Please write to your M.P. expressing your opposition to MOX, calling for a wider review of the proposed plant that takes into account environmental and security issues and also calling on the Government to develop a rational and coherent policy for dealing with the tons of plutonium currently stored at various sites around Britain. Ask your M.P. to pass on your concerns to the Minister for Energy, John Battle M.P.

Resolution to AGM May 26th

That the Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition meet on the 4th Tuesday of each month instead of the 2nd or 4th Tuesday as at present.

Proposer   Muriel Wood
Seconder    Dorothy Toohill

Fête of the Earth — Saturday May 16th

Just over a fortnight to go and the response to our appeals has not been as good as we had hoped. Can you please help on the day — have you any clothes or bric-a-brac to donate to be collected? Will you make a cake or donate a bottle?

If you can help in any way please ‘phone Joanna 543 0362 or Muriel 946 3270 or Helen 661 1060 (answerphone).

Each year we spend a lot of money on the purchase of leaflets, booking halls for meetings, donations to national CND as well as other organisations working for peace and against the arms trade and for the Campaign for the release of Vanunu. Please help to make our fête a success in any way you can.

CND Return to Newsletter index