Could new technologies make nuclear weapons obsolete? This is just one of the fascinating topics to be aired at the Peace and Disarmament Conference organised by British Pugwash and due to be held on February 23 2019 at SOAS. The event is being co-hosted by Student/Young Pugwash UK. Further details from https://britishpugwash.org/sypuk2019/.
All-party Committee taking evidence
A House of Lords committee has begun an inquiry into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, global nuclear diplomacy and the UK’s role.
The International Relations Select Committee began hearing verbal evidence in mid December and asked for written evidence to be submitted by 18 January.
The wide-ranging inquiry will address the NPT, nuclear risk, the role of the United States, nuclear arms control, nuclear modernisation programmes, new technologies, the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the role of the UK.
Describing the reasons behind the inquiry the Committee issued a statement saying, “As a result of rising tensions between nuclear-armed states and the fragmenting of existing non-proliferation and arms control agreements, nuclear weapons are on the international agenda in a way they have not been since the end of the cold War.”
The Committee is chaired by Conservative peer Lord Howell of Guildford but no one party has a majority. There are four Tory members, four Labour, two Liberal Democrat and two crossbenchers.
Commenting on the inquiry Lord Howell said: “The nuclear order, shaped largely by the agreements and underlying doctrine of deterrence developed in the 20th century, is now being challenged by rising tensions between nuclear-armed states, by the collapse of crucial agreements, by the prospect of continuing nuclear proliferation, by the empowerment of non-state actors, as well as by the development of technologies that undermine traditional nuclear thinking.”
Among the most worrying developments has been President Trump’s statement last October that the US was going to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty banning ground-launched nuclear missiles with ranges from 500 to 5,500km. Signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, it led to almost 2,700 short- to medium-range missiles being eliminated.
The US plan has been described by Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute, as “the most severe crisis in nuclear arms control since the 1980s.” He went on: “If the INF treaty collapses, and with the New Start treaty on strategic arms due to expire in 2021, the world could be left without any limits on the nuclear arsenals of nuclear states for the first time since 1972.”
More than 500 safety ‘incidents’ have take place at the Faslane naval base, the Scottish home of Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet, in the past dozen years.
The information, reported by national CND at the end of last year, followed the disclosure by MoD junior minister Stuart Andrew MP in response to a Parliamentary question.
Some 259 of the total of 505 safety ‘incidents’ involved nuclear-armed Trident submarines directly, while 23 had a ‘high potential’ for causing a radioactivity leak.
The naval base, on the River Clyde 30 miles north west of Glasgow, is home to the UK’s four Vanguard-class Trident nuclear-armed submarines, as well as three nuclear-powered Astute class submarines.
It will also serve as the base for the next generation of nuclear-armed vessels, the
Dreadnought class that is planned to be Trident’s successor.
This history of ‘incidents’ comes to light despite the fact that the Government also now censors the publication of information concerning safety breaches.
The Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR) monitors the safety of the refurbishment, transportation and storage of nuclear warheads. It is also responsible for monitoring the operation of the nuclear submarines at Faslane.
Its reports have since April 2015 been censored with annual Trident safety ratings no longer available for scrutiny by MPs and the public. The MoD began releasing DNSR’s annual reports in 2007, when it began doing so in order to avoid a Freedom of Information (FOI) tribunal hearing brought by the journalist Rob Edwards.
In 2015 the DSNR was brought together with several other internal MoD safety bodies to form the Defence Safety Authority (DSA). From that time the DNSR annual report was summarised alongside assessments of the safety record in other ‘domains’ of MoD activity.
Each domain is given a Safety Assurance statement, where the level of safety assurance is rated either ‘substantial’, ‘limited’ or ‘none’. These cover both the safety standards in that domain and the capacity of the MoD’s internal regulator to provide that assurance. In the 2016/17 DSA report a separate assessment is made for each of these two aspects.
The Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament, Fabian Hamilton, asked the MoD to release the Safety Assurance rating for the years when the DNSR reports were not being released. In response the MoD once again claimed that releasing the information would endanger national security, and confirmed that the 2017/18 report would also not be released, but claimed that “this does not prevent the effective management and independent assessment of the Defence Nuclear Programme, nor prevent its duty holders being held to account”. It is not clear how independent assessment can be achieved if the relevant information is being withheld.
All this fuels CND fears that safety at Faslane is getting worse, a concern given greater impetus by recent news concerning maintenance to UK’s second oldest Trident submarine, HMS Victorious (see separate article).
The figures released in the MoD junior minister’s letter is the latest in a long line of setbacks for Britain’s nuclear weapons system. In September last year Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee published a report which revealed serious infrastructure problems with the replacement programme, including huge delays and overspending.
The MoD has placed Babcock – which has won the contract to support and refurbish Britain’s existing fleet of Trident submarines – under scrutiny for the way it is handling the project. Concerns at Babcock could raise safety issues if corners are cut to save the flailing business, and the history of the British nuclear weapons system indicates there will be plans to bail out the company at tax payers’ expense if the company’s position is worse than reported.
On 5th November the government announced that it will not refuel HMS Victorious, the second oldest nuclear-powered Vanguard-class submarine. The oldest one, HMS Vanguard, is currently in Devonport dockyard in Plymouth for deep maintenance and refuelling at a cost of £204m. HMS Victorious is due to go into Devonport after HMS Vanguard leaves in 2019.
During an earlier deep maintenance all four of the Vanguard-class submarines were fitted with a nuclear reactor core type, named Core H, which was designed to last for the whole of the remaining service life of the submarines. However, in 2012 radioactive material was discovered in the primary cooling circuit in the prototype Vanguard reactor at Dounreay. This was believed to be due to a fuel element breach and a decision was taken to refuel HMS Vanguard during its deep maintenance period as a precaution.
In the announcement Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said that the decision not to refuel HMS Victorious as well was based on an “evidence based assessment”, but did not give any further details about the assessment. When the decision to refuel HMS Vanguard was announced it was said that it would not be safe to examine the Dounreay prototype reactor for three years after it was shut down. Permission to begin removing the fuel from HMS Vanguard was given by the Office for Nuclear Regulation in April 2017 and the phase of operations which includes removing the fuel from the Dounreay prototype reactor, is due to last until 2022. Williamson said the MoD will work with the regulators to ensure the safe operation of the submarine fleet and that “the safety of the United Kingdom’s submarine force remains our highest priority.”
The nuclear reactor design used in the Vanguard-class submarines is known as the PWR2. They are the second generation Pressurised Water Reactor design the UK has built to power nuclear submarines. The Astute-class submarines which are currently being built are also powered by the same PWR2 reactor. The Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR) is responsible for giving approval to the MoD for operating submarine reactors.
Lifelong peace campaigner Mary Holdstock died on Friday 28 December. Aged 83, Mary had been suffering from failing health for some time. She died in a hospice in her native Woking and was buried in mid January at Shamley Green Woodland Burial site, Guildford, where her husband, Douglas, had been laid to rest several years previously. Up until 2016 Mary had been a member of the editorial board of Medicine, Conflict and Survival. When she retired from that position an appreciation of her life and work was published in the journal.
The following is extracted, with thanks, from this appreciation.
HELPING to bring up three younger siblings reinforced an early ambition to become a children’s nurse. At the age of eleven, horrified by the pictures from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she had already decided there must be a better way to run the world, and was developing a social conscience through reading Dickens to a blind grandfather and learning about the United Nations. She also had an early encounter with the NHS, nearly dying at age 11 of a ruptured appendix – her father forgot to give the message that she was ill to the doctor as they were both distracted by having to ensure the safe delivery of a calf.
As a paediatric nurse, state-registered staff nurse, midwife and then part-time staff nurse for 17 years in the Rowley Bristow Hospital when it was in Pyrford, Surrey, Mary remained proud of the NHS. An early interest in politics meant she became secretary of her Student Nurses Association at University College Hospital in the late 1950s. Her concerns about threats to the future of the planet from overconsumption and pollution – as well as nuclear weapons – were heightened when her two daughters were born. When the family finally settled in Woking in 1971, as well as returning to nursing, bringing up two daughters and supporting Douglas, Mary was able to address these concerns in practice.
Among many activities, she became membership secretary for Woking Action for Peace (Woking CND), chair of the Woking United Nations Association, and collected thousands of signatures for the World Disarmament Campaign’s petition asking for a second UN Special Session on Disarmament. Together with neighbouring CND groups on a rota, she took hot food and washing during several winters for the women at Greenham Common. She also helped Crisis at Christmas with their administration because, she said; “ I had one of the first Amstrads and they advertised for a volunteer to use one in the office”.
Her anti-nuclear/pro-peace activities resulted in some attention from the establishment, particularly during the Thatcher years. Even the postman was curious as to why she had so many people sleeping on her floor who left very early in the morning (to track the nuclear convoys) leaving footprints in the snow. The amount of Paracetamol requested by the Greenham women at the Green Gate led to investigations into why they in particular were getting headaches. Their camp was nearest to the nuclear silos and the Base clearly had an interest in driving the women away. Mary retained a large pile of strange and anonymous communications she had received and which only stopped when she confronted the retired military sender directly.
She always wondered about the murder of Hilda Murrell shortly before she was due to give evidence to the Inquiry into the proposed Sizewell B nuclear reactor in East Anglia in 1994 and she worked closely with Hilda’s nephew Rob Green and George Farebrother on the World Court Project and was in The Hague when the judgement on the illegality of nuclear weapons was given in 1996.
Mary and Douglas were active in the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW) and founder members of the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear War. They were pillars of Medact which grew out of the merger of these two organisations in 1992, Mary being particularly active in Medact’s Nurses Group. She was always there when there was a mailing to do and remembered the eight tables of inserts along the corridor of the office of the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons in Stamford Street and the heavy bundles that had to be carried down to the ground floor. She and Douglas regularly attended meetings of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in locations all over the world.
When MAPW’s newsletter became the journal Medicine and War, Douglas became Deputy Editor, then Editor as it changed its name to Medicine, Conflict and Survival. Douglas never typed. Mary had early on taught herself to type so she could retype Douglas’ stolen MD thesis in 1967; before the advent of computers she typed and edited three copies of every article for MCS.
Mary maintained an infectious enthusiasm for the United Nations and its aim to ‘free the world from the scourge of war’, the theme of many of her talks to school assemblies. Woking United Nations Association joined the annual One World Week Groups around the country in 1991 by holding an All Nations Party as a way of bringing together people from the many and diverse ethnic backgrounds in the area for a joint celebration of their cultural differences and their common humanity. Mary’s numerous talks in schools covered nuclear weapons, the International Court of Justice and the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference to which she went in 1999; “when the need arose” she also spoke on sex and relationships for the Guildford Humanist Society.
Mary was well known in climate change and sustainable energy circles in the Woking area, and by the many groups she had shown round her house to convince them of the value of her solar panels, insulation and energy-saving devices. The solar–water panels were some of the first to be installed in the area in 1979. Mary joined Woking’s Local Agenda 21 committee in 1992, impressed by the work that Woking Borough Council was doing in relation to sustainable energy. She realized the Council’s work was hardly known outside Woking, and gave a talk to the UNA Southern Counties Regional Conference which resulted in an initial 15 invitations to speak on sustainable energy and was followed by many more. These talks included economic estimates of savings and practical forecasts for energy reduction. In 2007, she estimated that if every Council in the UK took a similar path, the country would be able to achieve the 60% energy reduction target before the target date of 2050. The importance of locally sourced food became a more recent concern; local provisions shops and cafes were persuaded by her to source food locally for a trial period in return for free publicity; it was a great success and became a part of Woking Local Foods (WOLF).
The photo that Mary mentioned more than once is of her and Douglas on either side of Marika Jiva, a Hibakusha from Nagasaki. She was not optimistic about a peaceful future and believed that a great opportunity was lost in 1989, when she was involved in a Surrey University group advocating that NATO, as well as the Warsaw Pact, should be disbanded. She felt we had become a less cooperative world and had concerns about the mob rule potential of social media. In her later years she continued to encourage cooperation and discussion through the Woking Debates organised by Woking Action for Peace.
She leaves two daughters and four grandchildren.
(A memorial event to celebrate the life of Mary Holdstock will be held on Saturday 13 July 2019 at 2pm at the Quaker Meeting House, 41 Park Road, Woking GU22 7DB. – webmaster)
Marking the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the League of Nations this exhibition, which opened on January 14 and runs till April 17 2019, is held in the LSE Library Gallery.
It explores items from the LSE Library and LSE Women’s Library to see how peace was sought during the 20th century.
The exhibition is open Mon to Fri 9am – 7pm, Sat – Sun 11am – 6pm
See www.lse.ac.uk/Library/Exhibitions for further details
Please come to our AGM on 13 February 2019. This is your chance to tell us what you think we should be doing – we look forward to hearing new ideas on campaigning.
Members are elected at the AGM to take on particular responsibilities, and we would welcome nominations (with the member’s consent) or offers of help. We do not hold formal committee meetings, but communicate with each other by telephone or email.
At present members take turns in the roles of Chairperson and Secretary, so if you feel able to assist with one of these positions, or in any other way, please put your name forward - you do not have to wait for someone to nominate you.
Contact either Gill (see Contacts page) or Hilary (020 8898 4850) to discuss any of the above, or if you wish to submit a resolution. Otherwise just come along - we look forward to seeing you! Refreshments will be served.
American Muslims are taking a state governor to court arguing that their Constitutional rights are being infringed by contract clauses designed to prevent them from getting involved in any campaign to boycott the state of Israel.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is seeking to block an executive order by Maryland governor Larry Hogan forbidding state agencies from signing any deal with contractors that support the boycott movement.
CAIR is suing Hogan and the state’s attorney general Brian Frosh on behalf of software engineer Syed Saquib Ali, a former state legislator, who claims that the order bars him from government contracts because he supports boycotts of businesses and organisations that “contribute to the oppression of Palestinians.” CAIR’s lawyers claim the ban infringes Mr Ali’s right to free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Maryland is one of 25 US states that have now enacted similar regulations in what is seen as a concerted effort to prevent contractors, suppliers and employees from supporting boycott and disinvestment campaigns against Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians, their land and their property.
In a separate case a children’s speech pathologist who has worked for the last nine years with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas, has been told that she can no longer work with the public school district after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise take any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation. A law suit has been filed on her behalf in a federal court in the Western District of Texas, alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech.
The child language specialist, Bahia Amawi, is a US citizen who received a master’s degree in speech pathology in 1999 and, since then, has specialised in evaluations for young children with language difficulties. Amawi was born in Austria and has lived in the US for the last 30 years, fluently speaks three languages (English, German, and Arabic), and has four US-born American children of her own.
The regulation she is challenging required her to pledge that she would not boycott Israel during the term of the contract, and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israel or in an Israel-controlled territory.” This regulation was the only one on the revised contract sent to Amawi that pertained to any political affiliation or activism and did not seek to limit her freedom to campaign against or take part in any activities against any other country or, indeed, any state of the United States.
London CND Annual Conference report by Rosemary Addington
The Conference was held at SOAS, thanks to Nobu, a great activist who does wonders with the SOAS CND group and facilitates the use of SOAS premises for peace meetings
At the AGM that preceded the conference the main business was reporting on activities of the member Groups during the past year, and plans for 2019. These include:
1. Social Media workshops will be held again for those wishing to learn more about these skills.
2. Activities around the anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including a vigil at the Japanese Embassy in March and a Peace March around 11th March, the 8th anniversary date. (More about this in our March Newsletter)
3. A tour is being arranged in May for Pat Park-Jungen from South Korea. Her organisation "People's Organisation for Participation in Democracy in South Korea" campaigns for more co-operation with North Korea hopefully leading to a Peace Treaty. London Region CND will arrange and fund this following their very successful tour by two Hiroshima survivors last year.
4. Ongoing activity will be based around attempting to revive local groups possibly by joining them into regional entities. This has already started satisfactorily in SE London and East London and will also involve attempting to recruit more young people, including students.
The first speaker at the afternoon conference session was Husam Zomlot, Head of the Palestine Mission UK since October 2018. His appointment here commenced after President Trump closed down the Washington Office in August. Although this was a shock to the family (the children had to be suddenly removed from their school) Husam is delighted to be here and especially at SOAS as he did his PhD here. Unsurprisingly, he was scathing about the policies of Donald Trump, saying he is set against a Palestinian State, and all his policies oppose it, he supports the illegal Israeli settlements uncritically as his evangelical supporter base doesn't understand the situation. But the rest of the world, including Arab countries, and the majority of Americans do understand and won't abandon Palestine's struggles. He feels that Britain's position is improving as they opposed USA over moving the Embassy to Jerusalem, and took up the challenge to support UNWRA. But there is more to do as Britain still allows imports of settlement goods, and Israelis living in settlements can visit here without a visa, but Palestinians living in their own country cannot.
Other speakers at this session were Catherine West MP and Ann Feltham from Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
Catherine spoke of the large number of young people now interested in politics, they are flooding MPs with requests to get involved. But she deplored the rise of right-wing leaders around the world - not just in USA. Here a third of terrorist plots discovered are far-right and the threat of USA to leave the INF treaty later this year is a very dangerous move (Other Speakers addressed this in detail later – a report on this will follow in a subsequent KPC newsletter).
Ann Feltham concentrated her contribution around the up-coming appeal in April against the decision that arms exports to Saudi Arabia do not contradict the UK’s ethical guidelines - licenses are still being issued despite the appalling situation in Yemen as it is bombed back to the Stone Age by our weapons, mostly in Saudi hands.
Hitachi has announced it will suspend work on the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station in Anglesey. The Japanese firm has also withdrawn from a second plant at Oldbury in Gloucestershire. Despite the British government previously offering £5 billion to keep the project going, a Hitachi spokesperson said the firm will suspend the development of the plant for the foreseeable future and will take steps to reduce their presence in Anglesey.
This decision follows the collapse of another UK nuclear power plant project last year, as escalating costs led Toshiba to withdraw from the Moorside nuclear power project in November. With renewable energy sources like offshore wind farms offering cheaper energy the collapse of three nuclear projects in three months shows the economic non-feasibility of the government’s new nuclear plans.
Nuclear power continues to threaten the environment and human health – Japan is still tackling the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster that began in 2011. There is still no sustainable solution to nuclear waste disposal. The Government, says CND, must turn towards more cost-effective, safe and viable renewable energy sources. It is now time to scrap all nuclear power.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND