I am writing before the April Fools Day CND Aldermaston demonstration, planning my warm clothes and food supply for the day and also turning over in my mind the point of it all. Why go all that way to join a few thousand other devoted stalwarts, decorate the fence and make a cheerful noise for a few hours?
For my own sake I need to visit Aldermaston from time to time to remind myself of the reality of the UK’s Home Counties nuclear bomb factory. (And there are people in the Wimbledon contingent who will be seeing Aldermaston for the first time.)
But more importantly, I have had many opportunities in the past few weeks to tell people where I am going and why, and I have repeatedly been shocked to discover how far UK nuclear weapons have slipped out of public consciousness. We have found this when handing out leaflets on the street and I have encountered an equal level of ignorance (?innocence) among acquaintances who have been asking politely what I am “doing for Easter”. I have even had to explain to an educated young woman what the initials CND stand for.
It is coincidence that Easter Monday falls on April 1st this year but it allows us to stress the folly of nuclear weapons: a waste of money, dangerous and immoral but above all absurd, and politicians do not like being made to look absurd.
The UN conference on the humanitarian effects of a nuclear exchange or accident convened in Oslo at the beginning of March (see March Newsletter) was boycotted by all the P5 nuclear weapons states (UN Security Council permanent members) in a concerted snub to the Norwegian hosts. These countries possess nuclear weapons and target them at one another — and then cheerfully unite to avoid being challenged by the non-nuclear weapons states! Presumably facing a few nuclear realities would spoil the complex power games they are playing with the rest of the world.
The NPT PrepCom (UN Preparatory Committee conference) will take place in Geneva April 22–May 3 and although it is unlikely that there will be any major new initiatives it provides us with an excellent lobbying opportunity. How about writing to your M.P. to ask why the UK was not represented in Oslo?
The weather forecast for 1st April predicted “bitter east winds”, so we took care to dress appropriately — and certainly didn’t regret it! London Region CND had booked three coaches due to high demand, and almost a dozen people attended from Wimbledon. Different groups from around the country were allocated to different gates on arrival and our allocated area was the ‘Home Office Gate’, where we duly planted our banners (along with neighbours from Kingston, Croydon, Sydenham etc) and tied ribbons to the fence. However as it was really too cold to stand around, most people spent their time walking around to see what was happening at neighbouring gates, effectively encircling Aldermaston with a impromptu procession of protestors carrying the CND placards helpfully provided.
There was an official programme of speakers calling at each gate in turn, although as the London contingent had to set out home at 2·30pm we didn’t hear all of them. Other events included the ‘Resurrection of the Alleluia’ at the Faith Gate, where said ‘alleluia’ had been ceremonially interred by an ecumenical selection of religions earlier on, performances by various enterprising musicians (including one sporting an unbreakable plastic trombone) and a choir, plus home-made cake with tea brewed over a camp fire in a sheltered dell at the well-organised Women’s Gate. Meanwhile Oxford CND had set up a very welcome hot drinks and refreshments stall outside the Faith Gate which was patronised by all, although the promised Portaloos never did turn up, alas.
We were able to make contact with several people, including Wool Against Weapons (http://www.woolagainstweapons.co.uk), who had brought a sample section of their seven-mile pink scarf to tie on the fence, and activist Satsuki Goto who is a fellow Wimbledon resident. In the aftermath of Fukushima there was a notable Japanese contingent with their distinctive banners.
I was surprised to see just how unassuming AWE Aldermaston appears: far from being Top Secret, it lies across the road from a sprawling greenhouse and conservatory business and is clearly signposted on all the local roads. The atmosphere throughout the whole demo was very relaxed, with friendly policemen and a surprising amount of support from passing motorists!
Last month saw the second anniversary of the tsunami and meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan, marked in London by a lively demonstration of a few hundred people and by much larger demonstrations in Japan itself.
Campaigning in this country has been led by an alliance between Japanese expatriates and the UK community most closely affected by the Hinkley C reactor in Somerset which has just been given planning permission. There was a packed meeting on March 11th at the House of Commons with speakers including CND General Secretary Kate Hudson who pointed out that the impact of nuclear accidents knows “no national boundaries” and that other countries have learned the lessons of Fukushima (Germany, Italy, Switzerland...) but the UK apparently not. “Nuclear power is uniquely dangerous and dirty — and not the answer to climate change”.
John Large headed a panel of international experts on the technical side of the nuclear industry and gave figures on the extent of contamination in Japan. He was scornful about the inadequacies of the UK off-site planning régimes which are charged with providing public protection in the event of accident: “not fit for purpose” in his view because they only allow their own interpretation of “reasonably foreseeable events” and have taken no account of actual experience on the ground in Japan where regulations have been greatly tightened since Fukushima.
Jonathan Porritt gave an environmentalist’s perspective and was an immensely effective speaker. He said how alarmed he was by the “dangerous wavering” of some of his environmentalist colleagues in the face of climate change (those inclining towards nuclear power as the lesser of two evils in the face of CO2 pollution). He and three other former directors of Friends of the Earth are currently lobbying the Prime Minister, urging him to take on board the concept of “opportunity cost” i.e. the impact of any one policy on “policies that accordingly won’t happen”.
Investment in a pro-nuclear future is a classic example, because by pursuing the nuclear option we squeeze out investment in the development of renewables and the essential requirement for energy storage to take full advantage of renewables. The cost of a single nuclear reactor could be redirected to take vast numbers of households out of fuel poverty. Nuclear power does not even create many jobs after the completion of the construction phase. We need to look at “where we will be in seven years’ time”. Germany is developing an impressive renewables technology and manufacturing industry, rapidly divesting itself of reliance on nuclear-generated electricity and stimulating its economy, while the UK misses the opportunity to do likewise. The “net opportunity costs” over the past fifty years as the UK has pursued the blind alley of civil nuclear power represent a national tragedy.
The meeting was concluded with contributions from those whose families had been directly affected by Fukushima: the ongoing fear and sense of unreality they all shared, together with an intense frustration at the general inadequacy of information provided by the media and the Japanese government.
The February 2012 Newsletter carried a review of an impressive book by Commander Rob Green about the murder of his aunt, the rose-growing anti-nuclear campaigner Hilda Murrell, “A Thorn in Their Side”, and several of us went to a meeting in 2012 in London where Michael Mansfield QC discussed with Rob and his wife the possibility of getting the case reopened. An important first step in raising the profile of this disturbing case is that Rob has just signed a contract for a UK edition of his book to be launched in July 2013 in hardback, paperback and ebook. [Get in touch if you want to borrow the WDC/CND copy — 020 8543 0362]
This year we are back where we started 30 years ago, in St Mark’s Church Hall. We need lots of helpers and lots of customers to make this a major anniversary event. Please respond generously to appeals for donations of goods and time and spread the word as widely as possible. If you need stuff picked up let us know.
Because we shall be without the unofficial goodwill we have relied on for many years at the Community Centre we shall be under considerable pressure to set up by 11am so as much sorting as possible will be done in advance and working parties will take place at 43 Wilton Grove on May 15th, 16th and 17th (lunch provided!)
Joanna, Sue Jones and I recently attended the funeral of Maxi Alexander whom many of you will have known as a stalwart member of the Wimbledon Peace Group. I found it a very inspiring occasion and learnt much about her life in Germany both before and during WWII and of her struggle to train as a lawyer and make a new life for herself in London during the post-war years. She told me of her first visit to Southfields in the 1930s to see her mother and of her amazement on looking down from the large house on Albert Drive where her mother was working to see that all the houses along Wimbledon Park Road were identical.
Maxi was a dogged supporter of many good causes. She always took part in the weekly Peace Vigil in Wimbledon and helped out at the yearly Fête of the Earth. She regularly attended the HACAN meetings which opposed a third runway at Heathrow and was an early environmental campaigner. Maxi preferred to walk whenever she could, and did so at great speed; she felt that ironing was a waste of electricity and cut her lawn with a scythe rather than a mower. She refused to fly for years and would visit her sister in Germany by train until her son, Daniel, persuaded her to take the plane.
I knew Maxi both as a neighbour and member of Putney CND since those heady days of the 1980s when there were so many more active CND groups. My abiding memory of Maxi is of her batting along my road with a canvas bag in her hand. When we bumped into each other she was invariably on her way to or from some good cause or other.
She was not only generous with her time for good causes but also to people. Many years ago when my daughter and a friend were at primary school and doing a project on WWII she agreed to be interviewed and gave them real insights into life in Germany at the time.
Maxi was also quite fearless despite her small stature. A neighbour, who had been to a fancy dress party dressed as the queen, came home rather late to find himself locked out. While he was trying to break into his own home Maxi happened to pass and did not hesitate to accost him to check he wasn’t a burglar. Quite what she made of his costume I’m not sure! She will be missed.
Christian CND is making plans to visit the French equivalent of Aldermaston: Valduc, north of Dijon. The party will leave the UK on Friday August 2nd and return on Tuesday August 6th via Paris. Events at Valduc and in Paris will be organised by the French peace movement.
It is even tougher being an anti-nuclear campaigner in France than in the UK, and the French peace movement is very anxious for international support, but this is not the main reason for this excellent initiative. In November 2010 the French and British governments signed the Teutates Treaty agreeing to share facilities at Aldermaston and Valduc to research nuclear weapons for the next 50 years “reiterating their mutual interest in keeping their independent nuclear forces at the highest level of safety and reliability at least cost and determined to cooperate to this end in the industrial, technological and scientific fields....” The Teutates Treaty has never been debated in the House of Commons and makes a mockery of both countries’ disarmament obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Costs of the French trip will be minimal. Travel will be by minibus or car share depending on numbers and accommodation will be in a school (Paris) or camping (Valduc) and WDC/CND will consider subsidising anyone interested in going from Wimbledon. Get in touch with Caroline Gilbert email@example.com or Angela Rayner firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.