Nuclear power -- not worth the risk!

"Nuclear is neither necessary nor desirable to meet our climate change targets. It would entail huge economic, military and environmental risks which should be avoided": so said Michael Meacher, former Environment Minister in the Blair government. Government spin doctors and the public relations arm of the nuclear industry are working hard to re-brand nuclear power as the green solution to climate change. The nuclear industry has an obvious vested interest, but what is it that drives Tony Blair? Why is he apparently planning to override the conclusions of his own Energy Review paper? A plausible suggestion is that going for the nuclear option appeals to his hunger for 'techno-fix' and macho decision making. (Energy conservation and renewables are for wimps....)

Barbara Bampton attended a meeting at the House of Commons (organised by CND) to mark the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Professor Inna Merculova of the Sakharov Environmental University, Minsk, explained that at the the time of the explosion there was a culture of concealment in the Soviet Union. The International Atomic Energy Authority initially put the number of casualties directly resulting from the explosion at 4,000 but research evidence supplied by MEDACT has forced a huge revision upwards to a figure of 9,000. The fact is that in the face of so much secrecy, fear and dissimulation at the highest levels of government, no-one will ever know the true figure of those affected worldwide.

Huge tracts of Belarus have been contaminated forever and even in parts of North Wales caesium levels in sheep are still required to be monitored before they can be sent to slaughter. How can we presume to know the implications for the health of future generations? Linda Walker (founder of the Chernobyl Children's Project) reported that a new generation of children in Minsk is developing "cancers never seen before". Many severely disabled children are put in orphanages by parents who can't cope.

M.P.s Michael Meacher and Norman Baker, and Jenny Jones (GLA), each described the huge vested interests involved in pushing for a new generation of nuclear power stations. Meacher also talked of manipulation and deception, of skewed financial estimates and of the intractable problem of nuclear waste disposal. He urged the audience never to underestimate the strength of the nuclear industry lobby: people from BNFL were frequently drafted directly into the Department for Trade and Industry. Much more work needs to be done by the anti-nuclear organisations to publicise the alternatives, build massive support for them and to argue cogently and persistently against nuclear power.

Norman Baker added a wry note at the end of the meeting, remarking that NIREX had (apparently quite seriously) pronounced that the only safe way of reliably warning future generations about the life-destroying potential of nuclear waste would be to erect suitably-inscribed stone pillars over the shafts where they had buried the stuff: all other records being perishable!

Help sponsor DU tooth testing

The Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (CADU) has announced an important new project: an independent survey into DU pollution in Iraq, based on an analysis of children's milk teeth. This project (by researchers from the British Geological Survey and New York's Mount Sinai Hospital) builds on previous 'Tooth Fairy' studies in the US that found high levels of radioactive strontium-90 in children's teeth, thought to have originated from nuclear power plants.

It is thought that around 370 tonnes of depleted uranium was used by the US and UK in the 1991 Gulf War. The precise amount used in 2003 is unknown but is estimated as more than 1,000 tonnes. The resulting contamination of many populated areas of Iraq with fine uranium oxide dust is thought to be triggering DNA mutations and cancers, and also to cause birth defects and damage to the nervous systems and kidneys, but because of administrative chaos in Iraq and the difficulty of collecting data in war zones there is a consistent lack of rigorous data.

Iraqi public health physicians have collected teeth from 52 children living in three different areas, and in addition the researchers plan to analyse 16 teeth collected from North American children and 16 from individuals who died before 1940 (and who could not possibly have incorporated any DU or enriched uranium into their bodies). Testing teeth is an expensive process, each tooth costing £500 to analyse. CADU is appealing for funds, and we shall send a contribution from WDC/CND. Please phone 0161 273 8293/8283 or e-mail for more information.

Correspondence with our M.P.

Given that Wimbledon M.P. Stephen Hammond has professed to be all in favour of free and open debate about a future replacement for Trident, it is disappointing that his response to all letters has been unequivocal support for a Conservative Party line which has remained unchanged since the Cold War era. (Even their defence spokesman Dr Julian Lewis is well known to many of us from the 1980s.) Nevertheless it is important that we continue to lobby our M.P. with alternative information and points of view.

We can at least be pleased that Stephen Hammond has signed up to the Climate Change Bill, so perhaps members could write to congratulate him on this before pressing him on nuclear matters. Letters to M.P.s do count. Every letter from a constituent is held by them to represent about 80 letters on the same subject that remain unwritten.

Fête of the Earth

This was once again a great success with takings in the region of £1,200 and a wonderful team effort from all our helpers. Thank you to everybody who gave us their support.

Come Clean!

Come Clean!, the WMD Awareness Programme launched by the British Pugwash Group, is dedicated to providing trustworthy and up-to-date information on Weapons of Mass Destruction worldwide. Come Clean! call on all states to "come clean" about their WMD. Come Clean! believe that to create real security in the 21st century we must find and eliminate all weapons of mass destruction. We need to build security through international treaties and negotiation. We call on the United Nations: (1) to create a global inventory of all WMD and their production sites (2) to oversee an international guardianship for all WMD sites. Come Clean! call on all states to comply with international treaties on WMD.

The website includes an interactive map where you can 'hunt the WMD', information on Trident and lesson plans to fit in with the National Curriculum. Contacts: WMD Awareness Programme, Bell Push 13, 63A Great Russell Street, London WC1 3BJ. Tel: 020 7405 6661. Website

Maisie and Geoff on Radio 4

An interview with two of our members was broadcast on the one o'clock News (5/5/2006) as part of the analysis of the May 4th Local Elections. Maisie writes: "I agreed to do this interview because it was a chance to speak out against the war and occupation of Iraq. A great deal of our comments were cut drastically but at least part of what I said about the war came across."

Becky Milligan: I'm standing outside the Civic Centre in Merton with two former Labour voters; Geoffrey Smith, who was a councillor for thirty-two years, and Maisie Carter, who was a lifelong Labour supporter.... Geoffrey, you are a Labour man through and through, aren't you? You've been a member of the Labour Party for over thirty years, you're still a member of the Labour Party although I shouldn't think for much longer. What made you turn away?

Geoffrey Smith: PFI, education, the Iraq war, there's a whole raft of things which I don't care for. I know too many people who were staunch members of the Labour Party, worked in every election and are no longer around. That's what Blair has done, he has destroyed the Labour party, he has destroyed the fabric of the Labour Party, he has taken away the heart of the Labour Party.

BM: Maisie Carter, all your voting life you have supported the Labour Party. What happened yesterday?

Maisie Carter: I voted Green for the very first time in sixty years. I have worked in every election for Labour and I have always voted Labour. Yesterday was the first time that I didn't. I voted Green, I'm not happy about it, but I just feel so absolutely disillusioned with New Labour, with the government... the worst thing that this government has done, in my opinion, is take us into the Iraq war where thousands and thousands of people who have been massacred and the government is just not listening to the huge demonstrations and feelings there are against this war. I feel so strongly about that....

BM: Do you think Gordon Brown can do something about it?

MC: No! I don't think Gordon Brown will do any better than Tony Blair, unless there is huge movement from below and people come out and say "You are not going to keep taking us into wars - we are not going to tolerate it."

IAEA and Iran

A talk given by Paul Ingram, Senior Analyst at BASIC, Portcullis House 1st March 2006

Paul Ingram began by emphasising what was at stake as the IAEA Board took the decision to refer the Iranian case to the Security Council. He foresaw one of two likely outcomes:

  1. That Iran gains a nuclear weapons capability (undermining the prospects of peace in the Middle East, encouraging other countries to go down a similar route and giving a clear signal that the NPT is weakening and at the point of collapse).
  2. Sanctions leading on to military action (utterly unproductive because the Iranians, in the light of a completely unprovoked attack, would feel totally justified in acquiring nuclear weapons at the earliest stage possible).

He referred to the "lack of respect" for the NPT by existing nuclear states, and in particular the failure of both the Americans and Europeans to respect the capability of the IAEA to apply the safeguards which would guarantee that Iran is not able to convert its nuclear capability into nuclear weapons. "This is itself a challenge to the whole bargain of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is that the nuclear weapons states have agreed eventually to get rid of their nuclear weapons and provide nuclear power technology to non-nuclear-weapons states, in return for the non-nuclear-weapons states not developing nuclear weapons. They are not allowing Iran to develop a nuclear power capability because they do not actually in the end agree with the NPT."

He dismisses the suggestion that the US would not be capable of military action because its forces are too bogged down in Iraq. "The Navy and the Air Force are far from bogged down." Apart from resulting in the death and destruction of thousands of people, military action would "pull the Iranian population full solid behind the Government" and provoke "asymmetric warfare" (i.e. more 'terrorism').

"It is absolutely hypocritical for virtually any country on the planet to say that nuclear power should not be developed by the Iranians because pretty much every developed country is considering at this very moment expanding its own nuclear power programme."

We should be encouraging Iran to look at potential alternatives to nuclear such as hydro and solar power, both of which would invite massive investment. "There are alternatives and Iran could play a very important rôle globally in developing and exporting such technologies because the technology prowess of the Iranians is very sophisticated."

"If we do see the imposition of sanctions it will simply delay having to consider what is to be done next, and the further we go into conflict and deepening the rift between Iran and the West, the more difficult it will be to open the windows of opportunity."

The first thing is to switch away from threats to incentives. There is a strong interest among the Iranian population for developing much closer cultural, personal and economic links with the West. We need to have genuine dialogue and cultural exchanges. As Iran is ten years minimum away from nuclear weapons development (CIA estimate) we have time to develop a more positive relationship. Iran has already agreed to inspections in principle, and this plus other safeguard agreements could lengthen that time way beyond ten years. "And we of course need to engage ourselves in taking the NPT and our own non-proliferation responsibilities more seriously."

For full text see

Thinking Globally in 2006

Many of us nowadays perceive a lack of idealism in the United Nations after its sixty years of hard experience, writes Alison Williams of UNA-UK. The next series of lunch-time workshops organised by Merton Branch will address this question in relation to four aspects of the UN's work: development, security, environment and law. The intention is to show the inter-relationship of those four aspects to each other, and the increasing commitment of the United Nations Organisation to promoting and protecting human welfare. There can be no poverty-ending development without security without environmental sustainability without the rule of law without development.... And a decent human life requires all four.

Sessions will be introduced by Alison Williams, Secretary of the Branch and a former UN guide. All are welcome. Monday lunch-times: June 5th -- Development, June 12th -- Security, June 19th -- Environment, June 26th -- Law. Bring your lunch if you like, or come for talk/discussion at 1·00.

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