This was a headline on an inside page of the Guardian (22/9/2011). “Radioactive contamination that leaked for more than two decades from the Dounreay nuclear plant on the north coast of Scotland will never be completely cleaned up, a Scottish government agency has admitted.”
Fishing has been banned within a 2km radius of the plant since 1997. The most radioactive of the contaminating particles are regarded by experts as potentially lethal if ingested: cæsium-137 (half-life 30 years) and traces of plutonium-239 (half-life of over 24,000 years) have polluted local beaches, the coast and the seabed. In 2007 Dounreay, which is now being decommissioned, pleaded guilty at Wick Sheriff Court to a “failure to prevent fragments of irradiated nuclear fuel being discharged into the environment”. The UK Atomic Agency Authority was fined just £140,000.
This story appals me for various reasons, starting with the derisory fine imposed on those responsible. But no amount of money is going to undo the damage to the environment or ameliorate the health risks to the local population. I loathe the fact that the wild beauty of Scotland was considered fair game when Dounreay was constructed. I am frightened by the irresponsibility of the previous generation of scientists who took such risks with a technology that they understood so incompletely, leaving succeeding generations to reap the consequences.
Why does the government expect us to believe that anything has changed? There is still no solution to the problem of nuclear waste. Nuclear power stations still create plutonium — a radioactive poison that does not exist in nature — and ‘decommissioning’ simply consists of entombing redundant power stations in concrete indefinitely. Nuclear waste created in the US/USSR in the 1950s is still being stored in leaky, rusty tanks, while the cooling ponds at Sellafield are open to the air — and to any passing seagull that chooses to settle there. We wouldn’t say thank-you to a legacy of decaying atomic debris from classical Greece and Rome: a cliché perhaps, but this gives you an idea of the timescale we are talking about.
Report from the Nuclear Information Service http://nuclearinfo.orgAugust–September 2011:
The MoD annual report and accounts for 2010/11 reveal an alarming degree of disorganisation, with safety corners being cut in the interests of economy: “Shortages of suitably qualified and experienced personnel pose risks in several key areas”, including nuclear watch keepers for nuclear-powered submarines. The Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator is understaffed and “faces considerable challenges in maintaining the necessary level of corporate competence”.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review decision to delay the in-service date of the successor to the current generation of Trident nuclear weapons “will present safety justification challenges” and plans to extend the lives of Vanguard class submarines “will particularly need to address the maintenance of the reactor plant safety justification”. Safety management arrangements for Rolls Royce, designer of the new reactor proposed for the successor submarine, are identified as an “emerging issue”.
The report also highlights continuing delays in dealing with the MoD’s radioactive legacy. A Decommissioning and Disposal Strategy for MoD radioactive wastes was scheduled to be published in summer 2011, but funding has not yet been allocated to meet the Ministry’s radioactive liabilities.
[more next month]
Our film show on September 20th was a great occasion. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Rev. Andrew Wakefield who allowed us to use his splendid church (with really comfortable seats!) and the cameraman John Adderley who was responsible for the entire technical side. With a twelve-foot screen and amplified sound the performance quality was close to that which one would get in a commercial cinema.
Andrew Wakefield put the film into the context of London Peace Week, with generous references to our contributions over past years (even though, as he pointed out, he is not himself a member of CND) and we were very pleased to see Cllr Stephen Alambritis, the Leader of Merton Council, in the audience. National CND General Secretary Kate Hudson introduced the film itself, providing a helpful framework for what we were about to see by summarising the sections that struck her as most significant. As always she spoke fluently and authoritatively, and it was a privilege to welcome her once again to Wimbledon.
We got good publicity in the local media and Director Bob Frye has told us that the feedback we have been able to provide will be of value in promoting the film internationally. We can be proud of an event that was arranged at very short notice.
Many thanks to the team of helpers who rallied round to make this such a success. We were able to transport a large number of plants plus boxes of bric-à-brac and books (thanks Mick, Julie, Brian, David, Maisie, Anne, Michael and Bob) and we ran a double stall and took £262 which is probably a record at this event. We also collected signatures on the ‘cancel Trident’ petition (handed in on September 11th) and actually ran out of forms before the end of the day!
The goodwill from the general public was gratifying and it was an excellent opportunity to start publicising “In My Lifetime” and Peace Week. As in all these big local events, the main aim is to be visibly present: we pinned a banner across the top of our gazebo reading “NO NEW NUCLEAR WEAPONS” which was legible from the other side of the field.
WDC/CND donated £100 towards the appeal for an advertisement to be carried by Liverpool buses throughout the Labour Party Conference. The ad reads “Education cut, social services cut, NHS cut. But £100 billion for new nuclear weapons. Time to scrap Trident” and can be viewed at http://www.cnduk.org/about/item/1251-cndbus.
Ten years ago this month we decided to protest against the vindictive American response to the horrors of 9/11. Some of us had heard a moving speaker from the “Families for Peaceful Tomorrows” group at Friends House, pleading that violence should not be met with violence. Some of these 9/11 families had travelled to Afghanistan to meet with ordinary civilians, to stress that wars kill people. They did not want anyone to go through the sort of suffering they had themselves endured.
The vigil was a joint venture between Wandsworth and Wimbledon Quakers, Merton UNA and ourselves. We prepared posters, produced a leaflet and applied for police permission, and we have been there every Friday ever since for one hour between 6 and 7 pm. We have updated the leaflet from time to time and the emphasis has shifted as we highlight and protest against specific events and policies, but it is surprising how little the basic message has changed: our “Break the cycle of violence” and “Violence breeds violence” slogans combined with a plea to governments to find a better way to solve the problems of the world. And this message has remained constant throughout the whole ‘war on terror’ decade.
We must have handed out tens of thousands of leaflets over the years and we have engaged with very many passers-by, some sympathetic and some not-so-sympathetic. People are rarely aggressive and we have met some interesting individuals from all walks of life. We have become a fixture in St. Mark’s Place on Friday evenings, noticed by passing rush-hour traffic as well as the hurrying pedestrians who do not stop. We like to think that we are having a ‘drip, drip’ effect by our sheer persistence and at the very least we are bearing witness to the possibility of a world in which values are different.
We have fond memories of past regulars on the vigil, people like Barbara Bampton, Helen Jones, Muriel Wood, Maxi Alexander and Dorothy Toohill who are no longer fit enough to take part and other people like Kurt and Ann Strauss who have moved away. These days numbers are sometimes very low and huge credit must go to Edwin Cluer who has undoubtedly put in more hours than any other single person with his wonderful array of hand-painted boards.
We hope that old friends will rally round for our 10th anniversary vigil on Friday October 7th, followed by a party at the Quaker Meeting House in Spencer Hill Road. Even if you can’t come regularly, come on this occasion!
I ran a stall at this annual event in Croydon and found an encouraging amount of interest amongst both the general public and fellow stall-holders. Fund-raising was not the primary aim but I took a respectable £45 from the sale of bits and pieces of (mostly old) stock and badges. I shall cherish the memory of the lady who told me that she hadn’t met anybody who thought the replacement of Trident was a good idea and I appreciated the way my neighbour (amphibians and reptiles) entered into the debate when I was challenged by a rare dissenting voice. There were a lot of young people around and next year we must give some thought to meeting their needs. All I had to offer were sheets of instructions for making paper cranes, but the origami challenge was taken up by several adults as well.