On Saturday April 26th 1986 the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded — 190 tons of highly radioactive uranium and graphite were expelled into the atmosphere. The radioactive plume from the burning reactor contained radioactive iodine, cæsium and strontium which were disposed over a huge area.
There was much confusion over the levels of radiation and ‘acceptable’ levels varied from country to country; there was great difficulty in getting adequate information in the years following the disaster. In her book Children of Chernobyl Adi Roche says that we now know of forty secret protocols signed by the Politburo which permitted scandalous censorship and control over the media and thereby stopped the flow of information to the rest of the world. Information given to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was monitored and selective.
The sarcophagus which was built around the damaged nuclear reactor is now cracking open and leaking out lethal doses of radiation. Scientists agreed that it would eventually collapse and that when it did there would be an even greater release of radioactivity than in the initial accident in 1986. And this was in 1996 — so what has happened to the Chernobyl nuclear reactors in the last three years?
It has been difficult to ascertain. Originally there were four nuclear reactors, the one that exploded, a second which closed down and two others which are substandard. The preferred option of the government of the Ukraine was to decommission the nuclear reactors at Chernobyl and build a steam-gas power plant. Mr Kuchma, the Ukrainian president, complained in a letter to Tony Blair that the G7 leaders’ insistence that the reactors must be replaced by new nuclear stations rather than by gas-powered ones means that the remaining substandard nuclear reactors will have to remain open for some years, otherwise there would be a risk of the lights’ going out all over the Ukraine. Greenpeace International suggest that it is the governments of the G7 countries and their nuclear industries which have prevented the Ukraine from building the cleaner, cheaper and safer alternative of a gas-powered plant. Among the companies which will benefit from the project is the privatised nuclear company British Energy, and most of the cost will be borne by European Union taxpayers. So although none of the G7 countries except Japan plans to build new nuclear power plants for themselves, the G7 is going to dump two new ones in the Ukraine.
It is important to keep the nuclear danger in the public eye and we have an opportunity to do this by selling the purple ribbons produced by the Chernobyl Children’s Project(UK) to mark this anniversary, and to raise awareness of the scale of the disaster and its implications for the future of nuclear power. (The ‘purple zones’ close to the reactor and in parts of the country where heavy rain fell in subsequent days are so highly contaminated that they are uninhabitable for ever.)
Buy your ribbons at the Peace Table on April 3rd or at the Fête.
We heard from Felicity Arbuthnot last month about the disastrous effect on the people of Iraq of the radioactive residues of the Gulf War: the depleted uranium-coated shells which are scattered in fragments throughout the Iraqi countryside. Now we hear of a serious fire which broke out on Monday 8th February among depleted uranium shavings at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Featherstone, near Wolverhampton. The fire burned for more than four hours, sending a plume of black smoke over 500 feet above the factory.
Depleted uranium is both toxic and radioactive, and is particularly dangerous when it burns, because the particles are very light and can travel considerable distances on the wind.
It is thought that most of the Featherstone depleted uranium was munitions from the Gulf War and originally from the US. It remains to be explained why it was being stored so near a densely-populated area.
The practice of using depleted uranium in munitions, because it is both cheap (as a nuclear industry waste product) and exceptionally hard, should be a source of much greater public concern.
Enclosed with this Newsletter you will find a flier and application form for our Merton Hague Appeal competition.
Please use any avenue open to you to spread this information as widely as possible. We have put so much into this project and have been so successful in setting it up that it will be a major disappointment if we are unable to stage an impressive exhibition and award ceremony in July.
We have circulated the information to all Merton schools and youth groups with an offer to send in a speaker and are following this up with ‘phone calls where possible. Inevitably the response we are getting is very much determined by existing personal contacts. Schools are hard pressed at the moment and teachers are understandably unwilling to commit themselves to anything outside the basic curriculum requirements. But even where staff are not prepared to include the project in next term’s planning it may be possible to get permission to distribute fliers directly to the children via their book bags.
We shall be publicising the competition at the April and May Peace Tables and we have asked the libraries to display materials for us, but ultimately the success or failure of this project is going to be determined by the use we can make of the marvellous personal network which binds us together as a community.
This is the UK follow-up to the Hague Appeal for Peace conference and an opportunity for those of us who are not going to the Hague to take part.
The morning offers discussion in the form of a Seminar for Peace (11−1pm) with (among others) Professor Paul Rogers (Bradford University Department of Peace Studies) who will explore the disarmament strand of the Hague agenda and Marigold Bentley (Education Adviser for Quaker Peace and Service) who will speak on the theme of the culture of peace, with special reference to the rôle of peace education. A parallel programme of activities for 5–16 year olds (crafts, games, computers, rôle-play, singing) will be organised by the Woodcraft Folk.
There will be a lunchtime concert (1–3pm) with a popular flavour — the MANA jazz band, singer Maria Tolly, dancers Suzette Rocca and Lisa Crivello — and Vedran Smailovic, the distinguished cellist from Sarajevo who played in the heat of battle and was the inspirer of civil resistance in Bosnia.
The day ends with a Rally for Peace (3–5pm) with speakers including Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat, Cora Weiss (International President of the Hague Appeal for Peace), Commander Rob Green, Angie Zelter, and Susannah York who will read peace poetry. The Velvet Fist Choir and children from Coldfall Primary School, Haringey, will encourage us all to sing. There is something for everybody.
Tickets are £3 (£2 concessions) and will be available at the Peace Table and the Fête. The hall holds 2500 people and the organisers want it to be full!
Bruce Kent made an inspiring appeal for the success of the May 22nd meeting in Westminster Central Hall. It is not enough to sell tickets — it must be a ‘missionary enterprise’ — campaign right up to the event.
Attention was drawn to the National March and Rally on April 17th on “Stop the bombing! Lift the sanctions!” Again it was stressed that it is not enough to attend the rally — but to campaign before — writing to M.P.s, local papers, radio etc.
A small committee is already working hard to ensure the smooth running of this year’s Fête and we are delighted that veteran peace campaigner Lord (Hugh) Jenkins of Putney has accepted our invitation to perform the official opening. This is the annual opportunity for all group members to become involved and you will shortly be receiving begging ‘phone calls with the usual requests.
The success of the Fête depends entirely on the generosity of our membership — generosity in the donation of goods and generosity in the giving of time. There are innumerable ways in which everyone can help.
Some people will be in a position to donate expensive items for raffle and tombola — but tombolas need inexpensive prizes too. Anyone can give a tin of beans or a bar of soap. We already have the gift of four boxes of books, acquired by a quick-thinking member when the neighbouring flat was being turned out. (The inheritors were only too pleased to be rid of them). A notice on my gate saying ‘Goods wanted for the Fête of the Earth — contributions gratefully received’ has produced a steady stream of bric-à-brac, including an ancient stoneware piglet-feeder! (a relic of Merton’s rural past perhaps, or of self-sufficiency during the War.)
Transport is a perennial problem at fête time — because as a group we are short of car owners and drivers. Please consider whether you can offer your services to help transport goods to the Community Centre — and perhaps, even more important, to help remove unsold items when we tidy up afterwards. This chore tends to fall on the same small group of people each time, many of whom are already exhausted by working at the Fête all day.