Clean up to take 40 years
The world’s worst civil nuclear disaster at Fukushima reached its fifth anniversary in March, an event marked by anti-nuclear rallies and conferences around the globe.
Officials now claim it could take 40 years to clear up the site but some nuclear experts believe this estimate to be wildly optimistic. The disaster was caused by a tsunami that claimed nearly 22,000 lives and forced 173,000 people to evacuate their homes, more than 43,000 of whom fled the fallout from the severely damaged Fukushima No. 1 reactor. Although TEPCO, the company that operates the site, claims that the recovery and decontamination is proceeding in an orderly fashion, there is continued scepticism about this claim.
So far 1000 tanks have been constructed to hold hundreds of thousands of tons of contaminated water from the ruptured reactor.
TEPCO told The Japan Times that it had already processed some 600,000 tons of water with its advanced liquid processing system, but the machine used for this process cannot remove radioactive tritium which is why the ever growing number of holding tanks is necessary. Also, underwater robots specifically designed to remove fuel rods from areas far too dangerous for humans to enter have also failed as the high levels of radioactivity have melted their circuitry. Hundreds of tons of radioactive water are still finding their way into the Pacific Ocean. In early 2012 scientists from the Japan Agency for Marine Earth Science and Technology reported that they had detected radioactive caesium from the No.1 reactor in plankton collected from ten points in the Pacific. This plankton of course passes up the food chain . Bluefin tuna caught off the coast of California have been found to be radioactive, contaminated with caesium.
The ongoing contamination of the oceans is not viewed by experts as the most worrying danger associated with Fukushima. The removal of radioactive fuel rods is far greater, and, some warn, there is also the threat of further earthquakes and tsunamis in the volatile geology that surrounds Japan.
Faced with these multiple threats the country’s conservative government is nevertheless planning to reactivate more of the country’s 42 commercial reactors that were shut down following the Fukushima disaster.
“Nuclear power is indispensable for our country, which has few natural resources, to secure stable energy supplies while addressing climate change issues,” said prime minister Shinzo Abe last month.
President Obama has criticised Britain and France for failing to create a reconstruction plan for Libya. One wonders if he had in mind figures gathered by the SNP last year that showed the UK spent 13 times more on bombing the north African country than was allocated to rebuilding it!
Several of us were at the London Region CND AGM on January 9 and one of the most interesting talks was given by Ted Seay of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC). The story he told would be funny were it not so serious.
In the Cold War period European countries were given guarantees by the USA, on behalf of NATO, that nuclear weapons would be stationed in Europe to provide a retaliatory threat to intimidate the Soviet Union and deter both nuclear attack and further westward incursion.
The Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) prohibits the nuclear nations, those which have signed up, from distributing their weapons around the world to other non-nuclear states. The USA says it is not doing this since the weapons are merely ‘in storage’ which isn’t prohibited. Were they put to use that would be a violation.
The states ‘storing’ the weapons are Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy and Turkey. The weapons ‘stored’ are gravity bombs which require to be delivered by aircraft. In the event of a decision to use them they would need to be retrieved from secure storage, transported to aircraft, loaded and primed, and the aircraft would need to be dispatched to whatever target it was decided on at the time. The target/targets might be many thousands of miles away and the aircraft would require refuelling on route. The aircraft would most likely encounter anti-aircraft defence systems and very sophisticated detection and anti-missile missiles. The chances of getting through to whatever target was chosen would be very slim. So much for defence and deterrence.
Gravity bombing has long been superseded by intercontinental ballistic missiles which can be launched at short notice from the fields of Ohio or the submarines skulking round the world’s oceans. So, the gravity bombs ‘stored’ in five European states are ridiculously redundant.
However there are maps of Europe with very precise information, available for anyone who wants to know, about the locations of the ‘storage’ sites. In the event of a nuclear war the sites could quickly be attacked with ballistic missiles launched from areas in Russia or other friendly states still hosting Russian nuclear missile launch sites. The very fact of hosting useless gravity nuclear bombs makes Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy and Turkey prime targets for nuclear attack. Some are beginning to register the absurdity but there is a very strong backlash against any moves to dispose of the ‘stored’ weapons.
There are 28 NATO countries and agreement for disposal needs unanimity. Poland and the Baltic states, maybe others too, are very wary of possible Russian aggression. Without understanding the issues, since information is still basically top secret, they won’t sanction disposal. Countries like Germany, which has cottoned on, cannot dispose of the ‘stored’ weapons without NATO agreement unless they tear up their own agreement to support the agreement to be part of the ‘nuclear deterrence plan’. France has its own ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent submarine fleet which, like Trident, is supposed to be undetectable but is no longer – except to UK submarines which it collides with occasionally. France will not allow NATO nuclear weapons to be withdrawn, leaving France as the ‘last man standing’ in mainland Europe with nuclear weapons. The chance of agreement amongst the 28 doesn’t look good.
Meantime the US is spending $billions on a redesign of the gravitation bomb to try to make the devastation wrought a little less extreme and make the bombs targetable rather than simply dropped from the bomb doors and left to fall at or near an intended target. All this development and research, redesign, and the manufacturing and replacement will take years to perfect and complete but the insurmountable problems of delivery outlined above will remain. The costs will be borne by NATO, which means you and me, and the benefits will be nil. The only people whom the changes will satisfy, apart from the arms manufacturers and their shareholders, will be the military. The military, poor things, have been on the receiving end of much criticism associated with all weapons and all missions that have a nasty habit of killing lots of totally innocent people – the “collaterals.” So anything that makes it possible to claim that they employ really “smart” weapons makes them feel better and is good PR.
$billions and $billions for PR! Bargain!
Civilian deaths in Yemen spark investigation
British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, running at about £3bn in the past year alone, are being investigated by a Parliamentary committee in the wake of thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen where Saudi forces have been leading military action to put down a rebellion. This follows the leaking of a UN report to The Guardian in January which found: “widespread and systematic” targeting of civilians in the Saudi-led strikes, and identified 2,682 civilians killed in such strikes.
At the same time, CAAT has instructed lawyers in a High Court action against the UK government over its arms sales. The Guardian carried a full report on these developments in early March. This is an edited extract:
British arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen will be the subject of a full-scale inquiry by a cross-party committee, while the government is also facing a High Court challenge to examine whether its actions break UK and EU arms export laws.
The inquiry by the powerful committee on arms exports controls is going to look not just at arms sales to Saudi Arabia and their use by the Saudi air force in Yemen where there is growing concern about civilian deaths, but also UK arms sales to other Gulf countries. The committee, which has taken months to be established since the general election, has a specific remit: to examine the government’s expenditure, administration and policy on strategic exports, specifically the licensing of arms exports and other controlled goods.
Britain is heavily implicated in the Saudi campaign in Yemen. The UK government has licensed £6.7bn of arms to Saudi Arabia since David Cameron took office in 2010, including £2.8bn since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015. There have been strong claims, including by a UN panel, that the Saudi bombing campaign led to repeated breaches of human rights laws.
Saudi Arabia has led a coalition aiming to put down a rebellion by Houthi rebels, who it claims are supported by Iran. The leaked UN report found 119 strikes that it said violated international humanitarian law, including attacks on health facilities, schools, wedding parties and camps for internally displaced people and refugees. The Saudis have conducted their own internal inquiry into the conduct of their campaign.
The arms control committee’s chairman, Chris White, the Conservative MP for Warwick and Leamington, said: “The defence and security industry is one of the UK’s most important exporters. However, it is vital that its financial success does not come at a cost to the nation’s strategic interests. “We have launched this inquiry to understand what role UK-made arms are playing in the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Have the criteria set by the government for granting arms export licences in the region been respected, and what should be the consequences if they have not?”
He said the committee was also likely to look at the role of the Department for International Development in sanctioning arms sales. It has emerged that DfID was not consulted on the arms sales to Saudi Arabia, even though it has a major aid programme in Yemen. DfID is only consulted on arms licences if it has an aid programme in the affected country.
The High Court case brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) calls for the government to suspend all current export licences and refuse all new licences to Saudi Arabia where it is possible the weapons could be used in Yemen, while the business secretary, Sajid Javid, reviews whether the sales are legal.
CAAT’s legal case against the British government says that bodies including the UN panel of experts, the European parliament and humanitarian NGOs have all found that the Saudi-led coalition has failed to comply with international humanitarian law by taking “all precautions” to prevent civilian harm.
Andrew Smith of CAAT said the UK had “stood shoulder to shoulder” with the Saudi government throughout its campaign in Yemen. “Despite overwhelming evidence that Saudi Arabia has breached international humanitarian law, the government has continued to license arms exports to the regime, making a mockery of its own legislation,” he said. “The licences should never have been awarded in the first place, and if arms export controls are worth the paper they are printed on, then the government must finally stop arming Saudi Arabia.”
Rosa Curling of the law firm Leigh Day, which is representing CAAT, said: “If there is a clear risk that arms exported from the UK might be used to violate international humanitarian law, the UK has a legal obligation not to grant licences for the export of military equipment and arms … The UK government must not allow itself to be caught up in the appalling actions that are taking place by the Saudi coalition forces in Yemen.”
The UK government has repeatedly refused to suspend its arms sales to Saudi Arabia. When challenged by Jeremy Corbyn over the issue at prime minister’s questions in January, David Cameron said: “We have the strictest rules for arms exports of almost any country anywhere in the world.”
Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has been drawn into the controversy stating that countries, including the UK, had a duty to stop the flow of arms to Saudi-led forces. Meanwhile British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has previously been quoted as promising to “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat.” This includes UK military personnel helping Saudi forces to identify targets in Yemen and transferring bombs earmarked for the RAF to the Saudi Air Force.
Pilotless strikes up but much-vaunted Tornado attacks few through lack of targets
Early March saw the 500th day since RAF drones were deployed in Iraq, reports the Drone Campaign Network. Analysis of statements made by the Ministry of Defence show that drones have been used in about one-third of the RAF attacks against ISIS. Some 250 of these were in Iraq and just 17 in Syria.
Given the heart wrenching debate in the House of Commons over the decision to extend RAF activity from Iraq into Syria and that we were told by Prime Minister Cameron and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon that this would be a game changer it is interesting to reflect just how few airstrikes there have been against ISIS targets in Syria.
According to the MoD updates (up to 1st March 2016) there have been 54 British air strikes in Syria out of a total of 338 UK strikes since the December 2nd vote to extend military action into the country. Despite David Cameron’s insistence that the UK had to “crush the head of the snake” by bombing in Syria and Michael Fallon’s argument that it was “morally indefensible” not to bomb in Syria, just 16% of British air strikes have taken place there in the three months since the hugely controversial vote.
Commentators believe that this is due to the fact that identifying targets for the RAF has proved difficult. It is mainly oil installations that have been targeted and the MoD maintains that not a single civilian has been so much as injured during the 500 days since the RAF drone operations began in Iraq and Syria. This claim has to be set against the findings of air strikes monitoring group Airwars which says evidence points to between 918 and 1,278 civilians killed in 144 separate attacks. The MoD response has been that no British aircraft were involved in the strikes where casualties were recorded. Independent casualty reports call this into question.
The Labour Party is reviewing its defence policy, including Trident, and London CND is reminding peace activists that anyone can participate in this review by making their views known to Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry. You have until the deadline of April 30.
Individuals and organisations can participate and you don’t have to be a Labour Party member or affiliate to do so. Submissions opposing Trident replacement can help influence the eventual outcome of Labour’s deliberations, and London CND is urging everyone to take the opportunity to make their views known.
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, Emily Thornberry who is the author of the policy review document says: ‘We want to seek the widest possible range of views, spanning academia, the defence industry, NGOs, parliamentarians, the public and, of course, members of the armed forces themselves.’
You can express your opinion in whatever way you find easiest. The Defence Policy Review document yourbritain.org.uk/defencereview sets out Ms Thornberry’s terms of reference expressed as a series of questions which you might consider addressing.
The one about Trident is: ‘Will renewal of Britain’s nuclear capability aid us in protecting Britain’s security and pursuing the values that guide our foreign and defence policy?’
Ms Thornberry begins by explaining that the nature of the threats facing Britain has changed in the past 50 years, and outlining the overall context of Labour’s review with questions such as: ‘What role should Britain play in building a world that is more peaceful, more just and safer…’ and ‘What should be the values and principles that drive Britain’s strategic defence policy?
You don’t have to produce a magnum opus or a detailed scientific tract – a paragraph or two will do. Say what you think of Trident and give a couple of reasons why. There’s an example below, use it as a suggestion. But don’t copy it, as large numbers of the same submission aren’t effective.
I oppose the replacement of Trident because nuclear weapons cause indiscriminate harm to the planet and its people. Their possession by countries such as Britain encourages proliferation by others who don’t have nuclear weapons. Replacing Trident doesn’t protect us from the main risks facing this country such as terrorism, cyber-attack, or the effects of climate change like floods and storms. Trident is extremely expensive, costing an estimated £100 billion over its lifetime. The money could be better used for socially productive and wealth-generating projects, which would help create more money for the government to spend on health, education and social services.
Those who are members of a Labour Party branch which has adopted a policy against Trident replacement, should send a copy of the resolution to the Defence Review, with a few comments about members’ views.
WHERE TO SEND YOUR VIEWS
Your submission should be emailed to email@example.com . If you don’t have email access, mail it to:
The Labour Party, Southside, 105 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QT.
Confidential documents released last month have revealed that 20 workers at the Faslane nuclear submarine base were exposed to radiation in August 2012. Safety was breached when workers were repairing a leaking tank on a Trident submarine at the same time that a nearby reactor was undergoing trials. The incident was caused by ‘poor communication’ and a ‘lack of understanding’ of reactor hazards.
The Syrian civil war started five years ago last month and has so far claimed some 250,000 lives.
Noel Hamel reflects on the ideological background to the Sunni/Shi’a conflict
The Sunni and Shi’a Muslim division comes from disputed succession of leader, a caliph, for the global Muslim population, the Umma. This ‘fault line’ is ever relevant to conflicts in the Middle East. Iran, Hezbollah, Alawites and the Houthi rebels in Yemen are Shi’a. Large populations in Iraq are Shi’a and the patterns of Shi’a versus Sunni populations elsewhere are also not cleanly geographically defined. The majority of Muslims are Sunni, including Daesh. Enclaves of many other religious and ethnic groups existed for centuries.
There isn’t agreement about who the caliph, the rightfully guided leader of the global Muslim community, should be or how chosen. Shi’as believe only God can choose the caliph and used imams to facilitate that. Sunnis believe a shura, a consultation amongst a wide range of Muslims and their representatives, people of authority and influence, should determine the caliph. Over many centuries these precepts have not been followed. There have been spiritual leaders without political authority revered as caliphs, and powerful political leaders with no spiritual qualification as caliphs, such as the Ottomans.
Various Muslim majority states are and have been ruled by autocrats without either popular support or spiritual virtue. Many in those countries blame western gerrymandering (for political, economic and imperial advantage) for the elevation and immovability of regimes in thrall to Western economies and sustained by them; and it’s partly true.
The prophet Mohammad predicted phases of development in Islam: widespread conquest and a golden age, corrupt and despotic monarchy, subjugation and humiliation, but finally an age of resurgence of the original prophetic values. The latter excites fanatics thirsting for a return to a caliphate embracing the global Muslim community living in harmony according to the values of 7th century Islam. Overlooked is that the golden age was a time when tolerance and multiculturalism was normal, and scientific and social advance propelled Islamic societies to frontrunners of civilisation and development. Butchering those not submitting to an ideology will never give birth to a second Islamic golden age.
Historically the Caliphate flourished in Damascus, making Syria particularly inviting for Daesh. The self-declared ‘Caliphate’ of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is rejected by Muslims outside extremist circles; but by Islamic convention, for those persuaded of its credibility, there is a duty of obedience to the ‘Caliph’. Daesh preaches that history has foretold global Islamic resurgence when Christian crusaders will be defeated and Muslims will emerge victorious from subjugation and humiliation. Because their mission is to establish an Islamic paradise on Earth Daesh is dismayed at the mass exodus of Muslim refugees. The Paris bombings had twofold propaganda value: to turn Western opinion against Muslims and, by infiltrating refugee columns with terrorists, to stop Westerners welcoming Muslim refugees.
Daesh propaganda has been decades in the making. Radical groups predating Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaida have promulgated similar stories. It is unfortunate that cosying up to dictators and autocrats has been a prevalent feature of Western foreign policy together with decapitating regimes fallen into disfavour, divvying up other people’s territory, ‘appointing’ quislings, signing territory away, colonising, subjugating, exploiting, selling weaponry indiscriminately, invading, bombing, deceiving, sanctioning and penalising whole populations. Daesh’s delight in carnal barbarity may be their nemesis, but Western callous brutality like war in Afghanistan and Iraq is music to fuel radical propaganda.
Parliament sanctioned UK bombing in Syria at the third attempt – originally UK bombing was to have supported rebels including Daesh – and even MP supporters say bombing may be counterproductive, feeding a narrative of persecution. It won’t eliminate Daesh and will not address mythology about Islamic resurgence defying Western crusader aggression through violence.
If your ‘weapon’ is a hammer it is said every problem is a nail. The rushing-to-bomb habit lacks strategy and subtlety. It is no match for fervent attachment to mythology which appears only to be reinforced by witless Western military action. I argued against bombing in the hope a more constructive, discerning and perceptive response might emerge. Despite bombing it isn’t too late. The lesson of history is that radical fringe movements usually succumb to disinterest. Our action should at very least ensure we do not alienate more potential support for our cause – as the war-on-terror did so effectively, turning quixotic dreams into nightmares.
‘I went to jail for 11 days for disturbing the peace; I was trying to disturb the war.’
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND