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Inspecting Aldermaston

A country lane filled with the scent of honeysuckle on a sunny June afternoon made a striking contrast to what was going on underground just over the fence at Burghfield. Under the mounds of gravel that are meant to collapse on top of any ‘incident’ is the assembly centre for Trident’s nuclear warheads. Surrounding this site are large lightening conductors whose presence, in effect, concedes that a natural phenomenon could produce a very nasty disaster.

We were visiting Aldermaston/Burghfield as part of a Scottish CND/Greenpeace initiative. This Scottish ‘inspection’ was intended to highlight the link between the Faslane/Coulport base and the development work already underway for a new generation of weapons, despite the Government’s claim that no decision has yet been made.

The delegation brought together a broad representation from political and civic Scotland. On the delegation were MSPs from four parties (Bill Butler, Sandra White, Robin Harper and Colin Fox), the Moderator Alan McDonald, Richard McCready national secretary of Justice and Peace Scotland , Kathy Galloway leader of the Iona Community, Mary Alice Mansell of the Scottish Quakers, Matt Smith Scottish Secretary of Unison, Lord Ronald King Murray former Lord Advocate, and John Ainslie and Isobel Lindsay from SCND. In addition we had the Bishop of Reading, Kate Hudson chair of British CND and representatives from Greenpeace. Di McDonald from the Nuclear Information Service and Rebecca Johnson from the Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy were our very expert guides.

A minor point of interest was that we were apparently seen as a security threat since the hotel in which we stayed which was very close to Aldermaston’s conference centre, was circled several times by police vans and outside the breakfast room in the morning we had a procession of mounted police.

We had, of course, requested well in advance, to have a tour of the Aldermaston Weapons Establishment. This was done by Robin Harper. Despite the status of the delegation, this was refused. There was not even the offer of a short courtesy meeting with a few of the delegation. The significance of the Aldermaston developments are that they clearly indicate the intention of pressing ahead with a new weapons programme. In 2005 the Government announced that they would spend £350 million each year for the next three years on new facilities. These are the Orion laser system, new super computers, Core Punch facilities, new facilities for material science research, for warhead assembly, for explosives handling and a new tritium facility.

The push for new development does not only come from politicians or the military. In fact some of the latter might have other expenditure preferences. AWE is run by a private consortium with the US company, Lockheed Martin, as the lead player. The new Chief Executive has just come over from the parent company. This just emphasises yet again how ‘independent’ our independent nuclear capacity is. Clearly there is a very strong commercial advantage in gaining substantial new work, especially if developments are closely integrated with the company’s work in the US. This is an aspect of the accelerating militarism that does not get the attention it deserves. These corporations have no interest in peace dividends. The greed and power of this military-industrial complex continues to be a driving force hiding behind supposed political imperatives.

After our Aldermaston visit, we attended at Westminster a presentation by Hans Blix of his new report, Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, to the Cross Party Group. Blix was introduced and photographed with the Scottish delegation. His view was that there are some positives in that certain countries with the capacity to go down the nuclear route have stepped back from this but also many negatives, especially the absence of any serious general nuclear disarmament negotiations and the risks of lowering the nuclear threshold.



After this meeting the delegation met with a number of MPs to discuss the Trident replacement issues. Michael Connarty, Gavin Strang and Michael Meacher were among those present. Also present was the Conservative Defence Spokesperson, Julian Lewis, but he declined to take the new Michael Portillo position. Most of the discussion was around the tactical issues of how best to promote the anti-Trident arguments.

Despite the impressive range of participants in this visit and the excellent media work provided by Greenpeace and by John Ainslie, there were only a few lines in one of the Scottish papers. This was particularly negligent of the media. An illustration of how they choose simply to follow the conventional political agenda was the sudden discovery of this Trident replacement issue the following week when Gordon Brown made his commitment to a new generation of nuclear weapons. Nevertheless the visit was very valuable in giving people from different organisations an opportunity to focus on the issue and to discuss future action. It is hoped that we will meet up again later in the year to consider other initiatives. We were certainly better-informed after the visit than we had been before. We all greatly appreciated the very effective organisation that went into this visit in the south and at the Scottish end.

Isobel Lindsay




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