Coronavirus and the nuclear sector

The unprecedented public health crisis that is associated with the global outbreak and spread of coronavirus is affecting all communities across the UK and Ireland, including the sensitive nuclear sector, according to an NFLA (Nuclear Free Local Authories) report.

In the past few days, the Sellafield site has announced that its Magnox reprocessing site operations will be suspended after workers on the facility tested positive for coronavirus. A Daily Mail report has also suggested there could be as many as 20 positive cases of coronavirus on HM Nuclear Base Clyde, where Trident submarines hosting the UK’s nuclear weapons programme are stationed, and that a quarantining facility is to be built on the Faslane site.

As independent nuclear policy consultant David Lowry has commented: “This raises the question of how well protected are our critical national nuclear installations... from being overwhelmed”. NFLA is calling on enhanced business continuity and emergency plans at all nuclear sites to ensure critical facilities are maintained. This may include bringing back retired staff in a manner similar to that taking place in the National Health Service.

In the United States, Maria Korsnick, President of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said that some of the nation’s nearly 60 nuclear power plants are also “considering measures to isolate a core group to run the plant, stockpiling ready-to-eat meals and disposable tableware, laundry supplies and personal care items.” At the global level, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have also raised concerns about inspections of Iran’s nuclear programme, given the country is one of the worst affected for coronavirus. It also raises the question over whether Iran has the capability to maintain its nuclear programme given the severe nature of its public health emergency.

NFLA Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said: “For the future, NFLA calls for a public debate in nuclear weapon states on spending more on public services and less on weapons of mass destruction. This emergency, like the climate crisis, puts into perspective our fragile and interconnected world. We have to redouble our efforts to make it safer and cleaner.”

NFLA website:

Wash our hands of Trident

Since 2005 the UK Government, in a series of National Security Risk Assessments, has identified “disease, particularly pandemic influenza” and “emerging infectious diseases” as a Tier One risk to this country. But after a decade of austerity it is clear that the necessary level of investment has not been put into anticipating this major risk.

We don’t have to look far to see what has gone wrong. The last two security assessments classed a nuclear attack on the UK as only a Tier Two risk. Yet successive governments have chosen to pour billions into a new nuclear weapons system to ‘meet’ this lower level threat while leaving the health system chronically underfunded. The same applies to the Tier One category of “major natural hazards” which includes severe flooding, the terrible impact of which we are seeing repeatedly. Both these risks were correctly identified as high priority, but national resources have instead been squandered on weapons of mass destruction to bolster our shabby global image. The consequences could not be more stark.

A Message from Bruce Kent

At my vintage age, like many of our older CND members and supporters, I am now staying at home and hoping for the best. But I press on with our important cause!

I’m going to put a home-made poster today in our window saying: “£ billions for the NHS — not Trident nuclear weapons”. I’ve also been pushing out that same message to various newspapers. Hardly a day goes by without a short letter from me to ‘my’ politicians, local and national, about some aspect of the nuclear weapon nonsense.

I only make one clear point each time in the belief that long letters don’t get read. I’m also on the phone pretty often to neighbours and always get in a word about the needs of the NHS and the immoral expensive stupidity of nuclear weapons. When I do pop out for a quick walk in our local park I have my CND badge on my coat.

This crisis is having some effect on public attitudes. People are having to think globally not nationally and are even thinking again about what real ‘security’ actually means. I’m just trying in my own way to help that process of public rethinking move forward. That’s something we can all do in different ways, housebound or not.

ICAN Partners in the UK report back

Peace movement activists from around the UK met at Friends House on 11th March for an exchange of reports on their activities relating to nuclear weapons, chaired by Rebecca Johnson, veteran expert in the field. The ICAN Paris Forum held on 14–15 February had been “a blast — great fun” for those who were there and was especially encouraging in the diversity of the attenders: many young people and organisations of indigenous people who have always seen the relevance of the nuclear issue to their existential environmental concerns. The full agenda of the event and videos of all the plenary sessions are available for those who’d like to follow up:

In the present circumstances dates for future activities can’t be given with any certainty, but further information can be found online. Campaigners on the Nuclear Convoy, for example, are planning a tour and have an interactive map of sites available. XR Peace, Don’t Bank on the Bomb, Nukewatch and the Nuclear Information Service can all be googled.

The Civil Society conference accompanying the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference scheduled for 27 April–22 May in New York has already been cancelled, and we were told that the future of the conference itself was in doubt. Rebecca hoped the fall-back position would not be a meeting of state representatives based in New York as it would be too much influenced by the American political situation.

ICAN is still hoping the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (the Ban Treaty) will enter into force by the end of this year, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the 50th anniversary of the NPT. The Ban Treaty is in no sense a rival to the NPT; it is part of the long process of totally eliminating nuclear weapons. It currently has 81 signatories and 35 of the necessary 50 ratifications. You can keep checking here:

To conclude on a thought-provoking question: is it time for UK campaigners to stop focusing on Trident and talk instead of UK Nuclear Weapons? Rebecca Johnson suggests it’s time to re-characterise the UK as a nuclear-armed state. To groups of black women she works with, the word “Trident” refers to a community-led police initiative on gun crime.

Merton Council & ICAN Cities Appeal

On 17th September our Chair, Maisie Carter, sent an e-mail to the Leader of Merton Council concerning “Nuclear Ban Communities”. On the 3rd of March Stephen Alambritis sent his reply.

Maisie asked Merton Council to follow the example of cities around the world which support the Ban Treaty and call on their governments to sign and ratify it, with Manchester in the UK the first European city to join the list. When she wrote, 26 countries had signed the treaty; by the time he replied it was 35.

The reply thanked Maisie warmly for her commitment to peace and her service to the community, saying that “of course” Merton Council supports “the principle of non-proliferation”. “However”, owing to years of austerity the council needs to focus its reduced budget on providing good local services. “Everyone knows” the council does not support nuclear conflict and it is “unnecessary to devote council resources to the various activities that would be needed for the signing of an international treaty like this.” And finally, the Labour Party including Mr Alambritis “continues to support having a deterrent”. It would therefore “not be right for me to involve the full resources of the council in this debate when there are so many other things that we desperately need to focus on…”

So that’s where we are at in Merton. It shouldn’t be difficult to counter his economic argument: endorsing the Ban Treaty and calling on our government to sign it would cost no more than an e-mail. His substantive objection to the treaty — the belief that UK nuclear weapons serve to keep us safe — remains our big challenge.

ICAN launched the Cities Appeal in 2018 aware that strong public pressure would be needed to undermine the nuclear weapon states’ attachment to the status quo. They point out that cities are the main targets of nuclear weapons, and just as coalitions of cities worldwide have formed to deliver the climate change goals of the Paris Agreement at local level they can in the same way confront the nuclear threat.

As of 1st March, 7,869 cities had supported the ICAN appeal, including in the UK Manchester, Edinburgh, Renfrewshire, Norwich, Fife and Hebden Royd. Washington DC is among the international capitals to have done so. If the American campaigners can win the arguments, surely we can too!

Britain’s Role in the World

On 7th March London CND and SOAS Student CND co-hosted a conference with the title “An Ethical Foreign Policy for Britain”. The first session addressed aspects of Britain’s role in the world, giving little to cheer about. The point was repeatedly made that while austerity brought suffering to many and Human Security is under-funded the government approves an outlay of circa £205 billion to bankroll Trident. The last Defence Review identified seven threats to this country, only one of which was at all relevant to nuclear weapons.

A theme running through the day’s event was the urgent need to engage young people in the nuclear issue in addition to the climate crisis and others which already have their attention. Catherine West MP has long campaigned against nuclear weapons and is now concerned about rumours that a new Defence Review may further distance this country from its responsibility to work for global security through the United Nations.

Hannah Kemp-Welch, a new staff member of London Region CND, spoke of her experience at the World Conference in Hiroshima last August, marking the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing. She was moved by the Hibakusha she met, both Japanese survivors and Korean women forced into sexual slavery. Each person has their own painful story of discrimination or promises of compensation betrayed. It was hard to return from those contacts to hear that the UK and the US are developing a new nuclear warhead.

Kristen Hope reported on the Calais Convoy, an initiative by groups in the Labour constituency of West Norwood to show solidarity last autumn. Kristen emphasised the need to respect the dignity of those seeking asylum and to give beyond the bare necessities: their convoy included seven parcels of toys. Since the Calais jungle was demolished in 2016 government policies have focussed heavily on security and spaces for International Humanitarian Law are being eaten away. The new mayor of Calais closed fresh water points and public toilets. The huge expenditure on security at the Greek border is “the elephant in the room”, she says; like the British expenditure on security at Calais. Instead of honouring obligations under the refugee convention, Britain like other European governments threatens activists and rescuers with arrest.

Carol Turner, Chair of London Region CND, had been facilitating that session. She admitted it had been “rather depressing” and she was glad to be able to conclude it on a more positive note when Marian Hobbs, a New Zealand Labour MP from 1996 to 2008, spoke to our conference on video. She told us why NZ chose to reject nuclear weapons, how the policy has survived changes of government and why it is not “naïve and sentimental” to favour an ethical foreign policy. The video runs just under 15 minutes and is well worth your time:

Phenomenal Women of Peace

That was the theme of the WDC/CND Peace Table on 7th March, just before International Women’s Day on the 8th. We included thumbnail biographies of a wide range of phenomenal women from Charlotte Despard and Rose Lamartine Yates (Wimbledon-based suffragettes), to Joan Baez (Folk Singer), Marsha de Cordova and Diane Abbott (both MPs) and Sophie Scholl (executed by the Nazis at age 21 for distributing Peace Leaflets).

There was a lot of interest in our theme and we had very many useful engagements. These included the signing up of one new member on the spot and another likely to join us. We handed out Suffragette book marks to those we had conversations with, and I know with some accuracy that within the first hour we had made contacts at least twenty times because we had used up almost all of the twenty-four bookmarks we arrived with.

Many thanks to Pat Sheerin, Maisie Carter and Dave Johnson who worked with me on that clear but cold day: what we lacked in numbers we made up for in quality!

We are looking for creative talent

Are you creative? Would you like to help with the displays for our monthly Peace Table? Do you have work you would like to display at this year’s Art of Peace exhibition in the Kingston Parish Church? If so please contact me on or 020 8543 5900 so we can get together and tap your talent!

I plan to include a children’s activity on the stall each month too: it’s so important to engage young people in the Peace Movement, and to start a dialogue with their parents. All suggestions in this area are also very welcome.

Gill McCall

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