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Safety Fears At Burghfield

Work on Britain's Trident nuclear warhead programme has been suspended for much of the last year due to wide-ranging safety fears. Following suspension of work at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Burghfield in Berkshire last July, when flooding increased the risk of fire at the plant, concerns about on-site safety became so acute that a decision was taken in the autumn to stop all live nuclear work on missile warheads.

The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) insisted last year that AWE had to improve safety otherwise it would not issue a new licence for live work on nuclear warheads. In an official report the watchdog said it was concerned the risk of an accident at Burghfield was not 'as low as reasonably practicable' in a quarter of its inspection targets. The plant's operator then took the unprecedented decision to halt work until last month.

'This is concerning,' said John Large, nuclear consultant with Large & Associates. 'If the [refurbishment] process stops it must be because the regulator is uncomfortable with the risks.'

Judicial Review of Trident

Judicial Review of Trident 10.00am Tuesday 10th June 2008 High Court, The Strand, London

 

The Nuclear Information Service case against the Government's decision to replace Trident and its failure to carry out a promised consultation comes before the High Court on 10th June. This is a 'permission' hearing when the court will decide whether or not to grant leave for a Judicial Review

Isobel Lindsay's SLR Review

Isobel Lindsay looks over eight years of anti-war, anti-nuclear writing in the Scottish Left Review and shows how what once was seen as dissent is increasingly seen as mainstream common sense

The two big war and peace issues involving the UK since the founding of Scottish Left Review have been the Afghan and Iraq wars and the further entrenchment of BritainÂ’s nuclear commitment with the decision to undertake the Trident renewal programme. The enthusiastic militarism of New Labour went further than most people on the left could have expected and, far from there being any interest in phasing out the Trident base, we had the decision to commit us to another fifty years of nuclear weapons (all of them now in Scotland).

SLR was far from being alone as a critic of these decisions. That went well beyond the traditional left and the peace organisations and involved much of civic Scotland. But we did produce a consistent critique since the Afghan war and have explored new approaches to international justice and peace issues. In the middle of the first phase of the Afghan war we said the implications were (January 2002):

Support for Czech Activists

Campaigners  delivered a letter to the Czech Embassy in London in support of two activists currently on hunger strike in Prague as part of protests over plans to base a US missile defence system radar in the country.

 

Jan Tamas and Jan Bednar have now gone without food for a week. They are demanding that their government listens to the overwhelming majority of the Czech population who oppose the system, which will put the Czech Republic on the front line in future US wars.

 

Peace Campaigners Under Police Surveilance

As they travelled through the City of London on private business on 31st July 2005, two peace campaigners - John Catt, an 80 year old pensioner at the time and his daughter Linda (with no criminal record between them) - were stopped and their vehicle searched under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 by City of London police. They were both threatened with arrest if they refused to answer police questions.

Unbeknown to them the vehicle in which they were travelling had triggered an alert as it passed an automatic vehicle number plate recognition camera - part of the cops' 'Ring of steel' around the City of London.

After they made a complaint about both the manner and the circumstances in which they were stopped, it was revealed that it had resulted from a police marker being placed against their vehicle on the Police National Computer (PNC) by Sussex Police.

A follow-up formal complaint to Sussex Police discovered that the PNC marker had been placed against their vehicle as a result of being spotted near EDO MBM demonstrations in Brighton. Sussex Police justified the big brothering stance on the grounds that the vehicle had been seen at three demos outside the arms factory, which "were associated with a campaign which gives rise to crime, disorder and the deployment of significant resources. Sightings of the vehicle may give rise to crime, disorder and the investigation, prevention and detection of crime" . A damning verdict indeed. The complaint was rejected - guilt by association is all in a days work.

Last week their appeal to the independent Police Complaints Commission has also fallen on deaf ears

UK Government Against Cluster Bomb Ban

The British Government is opposed to signing of a Treaty to ban cluster bombs, which have maimed and killed thousands of civilians worldwide.

Countries that have suffered the impact of the bombs, humanitarian groups and former commanders of British forces have called for the UK to drop its insistence on retaining cluster munitions, a stance, they say, that is likely to scupper hopes of securing an agreement at an international conference  in Dublin this week.

More than 100 countries are taking part in the talks. Delegates will point out that the vast majority of cluster bomb victims are non-combatants. Opponents of the weapon received the backing of Pope Benedict XVI, who called for a "strong and credible" Treaty to end their use.

UK Government Disappointing at NPT Talks

CND has welcomed the UK Government's reaffirmation, given at the  NPT Conference in Geneva, that it will not use - or threaten to use - nuclear weapons against countries that don't have them. That commitment, made in 1995, appeared to be broken by then Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon in 2002, when he indicated that Britain would be prepared to use nuclear weapons against Iraq. Opinion polls show that opposition to such a strike is overwhelming.

Otherwise, CND expressed disappointment at the UKÂ’s performance r at the Geneva talks. None of the new thinking on multilateral disarmament which has characterised UK Government policy over the past year was included in the UK's opening speech. The brief speech amounted to a series of platitudes, which failed to mention any of the recent statements from senior Government figures that have stressed the importance of disarmament initiatives.

The speech fell back on the claim that Britain has undertaken substantial nuclear disarmament since the end of the Cold War without recognising that much of this has been the decommissioning of redundant weaponry that has been superseded by new, more powerful systems.

New Nuclear Power Plant Costs Underestimated

The Government has vastly underestimated the cost of building a new generation of nuclear power plants, according to the head of the world's largest power company.  Wulf Bernotat, chairman and chief executive of E.ON, the German energy giant that owns Powergen,  thinks the cost per plant could be as high as €6 billion (£4.8 billion) - nearly double the Government's latest £2.8 billion estimate.

His figures indicate that the cost of replacing Britain's ten nuclear power stations could reach £48 billion, excluding the cost of decommissioning ageing reactors or dealing with nuclear waste. “We are talking easily about €5 billion to €6 billion [each],” Dr Bernotat said.

E.ON's cost estimates provoked an angry response from anti-nuclear campaigners. Tim Jackson, of the Sustainable Development Commission, said: “Combined with the myriad concerns about the legacy of nuclear waste, it should now be clear that a new generation of nuclear plants is the wrong option.”

Dr Bernotat's estimates are based on E.ON's experience as a partner in the construction of a nuclear plant in Finland to a French design viewed as the most likely for deployment in Britain. He estimated the cost of that project at €4.5 billion.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform said the £2.8 billion figure, contained in a White Paper published in January, was an estimate and that the final costs would hinge on many factors. 

Westminster Boffins Worried About Their Tea

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Whitehall officials worried about the survival of the great British cup of tea in the event of a nuclear attack on the UK in the 1950s, new documents have revealed. The tea situation would be "very serious" if there was a widespread attack on the UK by both A bombs and H bombs, officials drafted in to draw up contingency plans for food supplies in the event of a nuclear war said.

"The tea position would be very serious with a loss of 75% of stocks and substantial delays in imports and with no system of rationing it would be wrong to consider that even 1oz per head per week could be ensured. No satisfactory solution has yet been found," noted one official.

The formerly top secret documents dating from 1954 to 1956 were released under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Archives in Kew.

A paper drawn up in April 1955, noted: "The advent of thermo nuclear weapons .. has presented us with a new and much more difficult set of food defence problems."

Dounreay Stockpile Details Withheld

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THE UK Atomic Energy Authority has succeeded in keeping private details about enriched uranium and plutonium stockpiles at Dounreay. Disclosing the information could help terrorists gain access to potential bomb-making materials, deputy UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has ruled.

In the first case of its kind, Mr Thomas upheld the UKAEA's refusal to hand over seven files to Edinburgh-based environmental journalist Rob Edwards. Mr Thomas claimed disclosure could have "a far-reaching impact on the national security of the UK".

Mr Edwards had sought information relating to fissile materials held at the UKAEA's defunct fast-reactor site. After having his initial request knocked back in March 2006, he used Freedom of Information legislation in a bid to force the UKAEA to hand over the data.