Friday, 29 January 2016

Why did UK boycott nuclear disarmament negotiations this week?

Letter to London Evening Standard:

Your news report "Corbyn at odds with voters over his policy on nuclear deterrent, new poll reveals," and accompanying leading article "Voters' clear message to Labour on Trident" (28 January) both mislead your readers.

The opinion poll question does not assess the support for negotiated - so-called multilateral - nuclear disarmament which is the regular default position of the pro-Trident re-armers, which includes the Prime Minister, Defence Secretary and shadow foreign secretary,

Voters in the 1964 General Election, at the height of the Cold War stand-off with the Soviet Union, elected the Labour Party led by Harold Wilson that stood on a Manifesto platform that asserted boldly: " We are against the development of national nuclear deterrents."

Wilson’s Government subsequently backtracked on this commitment because the unelected  Royal Navy top brass convinced him - despite Defence Secretary Denis  Healey’s misgivings - that  development of the Polaris nuclear submarine system, the forerunner of Trident “had  passed the point of no return” according to a brilliant new account of the decision by London University historian, Professor Peter Hennessy in his new book The Silent Deep: the Royal Submarine Service since 1945 (page 242)

So Mr Corbyn needs to argue the case for negotiated nuclear disarmament over the next four years, not passively accept that some opinion polls suggest the voters currently don’t agree.

Ironically, on the very day your ran the report on this opinion poll, the United Nations hosted in Geneva  the first  multilateral open-ended working group (OEWG) on nuclear disarmament to address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions, and norms that will need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.

The United Kingdom boycotted this multilateral forum. Why could that be?

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Killing our own with polonium contamination

The media today have  been shocked at the exposure of details of the Russian Government's apparent murder of one of its own former spooks, Alexander Litvinenko,  by radioactive polonium poisoning
They may also be shocked that in the early years of developing the predecessor to the Trident nuclear WMD, our nuclear boffins  had a terrible accident at Sellafield ( then called Windscale) when trying to produce  polonium - by irradiating bismuth oxide cartridges - in the iconic Windscale piles, resulting in the widespread polonium contamination of north west England in October 1957.
The official history of the accident, by the late Lorna Arnold,  ( published in 1992), revealed ( at page 97) that following the accident polonium pollution was detected within days in northern Europe. Samples were collected in Copenhagen, Oslo, Bonn, and The Hague and analysed by the UK Atomic Energy Authority  scientists at Harwell  near Oxford.
A paper revealing this was published, ironically considering the purpose of Sellafield in the atomic bomb programme, by Dr John Dunster, chief health physicist for UKAEA at Sellafield, at the United Nations' Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy conference in Geneva, in 1958. Perhaps it was to smokescreen the real military nuclear materials production purposes of the Windscale piles.
Later medical analysis by the Medical Research Council suggested around 33 additional deaths could have resulted from this uncontrolled release of polonium across the country
As a BBC documentary  aired in  2007 suggested " "No-one died in the fire but despite what the UKAEA said in 1957 about there being no risk to human health, it's now widely accepted that some deaths in the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, could have been caused by the release of the radioactivity. But the figures vary depending on which study you look at. Some have suggested 30, others around 100 and some well over that. Brian Wynne, professor of science studies at Lancaster University says the deaths are what are known as statistical deaths i.e not actual named people and it will be always difficult to prove whether any one person died as a direct result of an incident like the fire."
 "The view from outside Windscale in 1957". BBC 2 October 2007
So it is not only the Russians that have  had problems with dangerous polonium.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

UK should have positive role in nuclear disarmament‏

 Letter sent to The Times:

Alice Thomson makes a compelling case for nuclear disarmament, especially considering her grandfather’s pioneering  role in developing atomic weapons (“Maybe Corbyn’s right about scrapping Trident,” 20 January; However, I disagree with her caveat that “Britain’s UN security council seat could be in jeopardy if the country became nuclear-lite.”  
In late October last year, states at the United Nations in New York decided to hold an open-ended working group (OEWG) on nuclear disarmament to address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions, and norms that will need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons. It will operate as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly. (
Resolution 70/33 entitled “Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations”, was subsequently adopted by the General Assembly on 7 December 2015. It builds upon the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on nuclear disarmament, held on 26 September 2013.

The first meeting of this OEWG in 2016 will be held in Geneva on 28 January, (, to which interested non-governmental organizations are invited to participate.
Last month Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked the Government about its voting on the resolutions promoting this multilateral nuclear disarmament process, to be told by Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay of St Johns that: “Lords


“At the UN First Committee in November, the UK voted against the Resolutions “L13 Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations” and “L37 Humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons” (Written answer HL4165, 10 December 2015)


In a Parliamentary answer to Labour backbench veteran MP Paul Flynn by another Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood on19 January, the minister asserted: “The UK has a strong record on nuclear disarmament.”

Yet it refuses to take part in the very multilateral nuclear disarmament forum established at the UN while the UK held the chair of the UN security council.

I believe  the UK would be hugely appreciated as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council by the 190 odd other UN non- nuclear states if it began real steps towards nuclear disarmament.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Nuclear WMD confusion

Letter sent to The Guardian:
I am very pleased Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has opened a wide-ranging debate in the Labour Party over nuclear WMDs, andI share his opposition to these deadly weapons. But I think he is misguided in  proposing going ahead with building the missile-carrying nuclear-powered submarines as replacement for Trident, but deploying them without any arms. (“Corbyn proposes third way on Trident,” 18 January;
This would be a massively expensive make-work programme for the existing and future workforces at Barrow shipyard, and the manufacturing supply chain, serving no purpose other than appeasing his trades union backers, who themselves, after decades resisting defence diversification, ought now to wake up to its merits for their members.
Your security expert Richard Norton-Taylor is correct to point out the ship-building expertise of the Barrow workforce could be much better deployed in building surface ships and perhaps conventionally powered -and-armed submarines.
In my personal submission to the Government’s Defence and Security Review last year, I argued the main security threat facing the UK this century will come from climate change-enforced mass migrations of populations from regions hotting-up and chronically losing water supplies.
I proposed building dual-purpose surface ships for the Royal Navy, to permit evacuations, medical care and emergency aid to these stricken populations, or else face a growing refugee threat that makes the current one from Syria and Libya look like a tea party.
Also, shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry is totally misinformed if she thinks  Japan has the capability to build and deploy a nuclear weapon. (same report, 18 Jan) As a lawyer, she should be aware Japan has a constitutional prohibition against owning, development or deployment of nuclear weapons.
Additionally, Japan has never tested a nuclear weapon, and could not deploy one untested, however smart the designers- in- the- basement.
I think Mr Corbyn should take encouragement  from Labour’s election-winning 1964 manifesto, the New Britain, which asserted
“We are against the development of national nuclear deterrents.”
So am I.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

How to win elections on a nuclear disarmament platform: Labour in 1964



The world wants it and would welcome it. The British people want it, deserve it and urgently need it. And now, at last, the general election presents us with the exciting prospect of achieving it. The dying months of a frustrating 1964 can be transformed into the launching platform for the New Britain of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
A New Britain - mobilising the resources of technology under a national plan; harnessing our national wealth in brains, our genius for scientific invention and medical discovery; reversing the decline of the thirteen wasted years; affording a new opportunity to equal, and if possible surpass, the roaring progress of other western powers while Tory Britain has moved sideways, backwards but seldom forward. The country needs fresh and virile leadership. Labour is ready. Poised to swing its plans into instant operation. Impatient to apply the "new thinking" that will end the chaos and sterility. Here is Labour's Manifesto for the 1964 election, restless with positive remedies for the problems the Tories have criminally neglected.

The Labour Party will ensure that Britain is adequately defended. This is manifestly not the position today. In 13 years, the Conservatives have spent £20,000 m. and our defences are weaker than at almost any time in our history. Flagrant waste on missile and other projects has diverted funds and resources from urgently needed defence projects. This is one reason for their failure to obtain on a voluntary, regular basis the required numbers in the Army, to modernise their obsolescent equipment and to give them the long-range mobility needed for our commitments, particularly to the Commonwealth. Mr. Macmillan's decision in 1957 to stake his all on Blue Streak, followed by further costly expenditure on Skybolt and now Polaris, has meant that the Navy too has been run down to a dangerously low level, and is now pathetically inadequate in numbers of ships in commission, in manning and in the most modern types such as nuclear-powered tracker submarines. Many thousands of millions have been spent on the aircraft industry, but because of lurches in strategic policy, wrong priorities, and grave errors in the choice of aircraft, we are now in a position where obsolete types have not been replaced, and for such urgently needed machines as helicopters (which could make a great contribution to the security and effectiveness of our troops in Malaysia) we are dependent on the United States. Tory Nuclear Pretence The Nassau agreement to buy Polaris know-how and Polaris missiles from the U.S.A. will add nothing to the deterrent strength of the western alliance, and it will mean utter dependence on the U.S. for their supply. Nor is it true that all this costly defence expenditure will produce an "independent British deterrent". It will not be independent and it will not be British and it will not deter. Its possession will impress neither friend nor potential foe. Moreover, Britain's insistence on this nuclear pretence carries with it grave dangers of encouraging the spread of nuclear weapons to countries not possessing them, including Germany. The Government bases its policy on the assumption that Britain must be prepared to go it alone without her allies in an all-out thermo-nuclear war with the Soviet Union, involving the obliteration of our people. By constantly reiterating this appalling assumption the Government is undermining the alliance on which our security now depends.

Labour's New Approach
A Labour Government's first concern will be to put our defences on a sound basis and to ensure that the nation gets value for money on its overseas expenditure. In this field, any government has a clear responsibility to ensure the security of its own people and the fulfilment of its obligations to other nations. As a first step, we shall submit the whole area of weapons supply to a searching re-examination in order to ensure that the limited sums available are spent on those weapons best designed to carry out our policies and fulfil our obligations. We are not prepared any longer to waste the country's resources on endless duplication of strategic nuclear weapons. We shall propose the re-negotiation of the Nassau agreement. Our stress will be on the strengthening of our conventional regular forces so that we can contribute our share to Nato defence and also fulfil our peacekeeping commitments to the Commonwealth and the United Nations. We are against the development of national nuclear deterrents and oppose the current American proposal for a new mixed-manned nuclear surface fleet (MLF). We believe in the inter-dependence of the western alliance and will put forward constructive proposals for integrating all Nato's nuclear weapons under effective political control so that all the partners in the alliance have a proper share in their deployment and control. We do not delude ourselves that the tasks ahead will be easy to accomplish. Even now we do not know the full extent of the damage we shall have to repair after 13 wasted years of Conservative government. The essential conditions for success are, however, clear.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Stardust

I recommend the coterie of shadow cabinet members briefing reporters they may resign from Labour's shadow front bench if Labour party members and its defence commission review decide to push to change Labour's current  support for spending £167 billion on replacing the Trident nuclear WMDs system ("Shadow  cabinet could quit if Labour decides to scrap Trident," Independent, 11 January) read the splendid eponymous  title track to the anti -nuclear WMD warning film of Raymond Briggs' seminal  When the Wind Blows, telling of a post-atomic apocalypse planet:

So long child, I'm on my way
And after all is done, after all is done
Don't be down, it's all in the past
Though you may be afraid
So long child, it's awful dark
And I've never felt the sun
I dread to think of when
When the wind blows
When the wind blows
When the wind blows
When the wind blows
Life burns a savage wound, angry and wrought
Trusting a twisted word, you'll run, run away
You'll take him on home, you'll spin and taunt him
But they won't believe you, no matter what you'll say
So long child, it's awful dark
I never felt the sun
I dread to think of when
The wind blows
When the wind blows
When the wind blows
When the wind blows

A haunting warning, sung and co-written by the incomparable David Bowie, with Turkish multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay.

We can be Heroes, just for one day


I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be Heroes, just for one day

And you, you can be mean
And I, I'll drink all the time
'Cause we're lovers, and that is a fact
Yes we're lovers, and that is that

Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time,
just for one day
We can be Heroes, for ever and ever
What d'you say?

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing,
nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, for ever and ever
Oh we can be Heroes,
just for one day

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be Heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day

I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns shot above our heads
(over our heads)
And we kissed,
as though nothing could fall
(nothing could fall)
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
Then we could be Heroes,
just for one day

We can be Heroes
We can be Heroes
We can be Heroes
Just for one day
We can be Heroes

We're nothing, and nothing will help us
Maybe we're lying,
then you better not stay
But we could be safer,
just for one day

Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh,
just for one day

Thursday, 7 January 2016

We are all nuclear unilateralists now!‏

At prime minister's questions on Wednesday, in what he thought was a lambast at Jeremy Corbyn's appointment of nuclear WMD opponent Emily Thornberry as shadow defence secretary, David Cameron spluttered: "Frankly, it goes to a bigger truth: one day, I suppose this reshuffle will be over, and we will be left with a collection of politicians—be in no doubt about this—who have signed up to unilateral nuclear disarmament." (6 January 2016

In fact, the only form of nuclear disarmament that any government - Tory, Coalition or Labour -  has indulged is what Mr Cameron disparagingly calls "unilateral."

As  Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood dressed up the unilateralist  admission in a written Parliamentary answer to Labour veteran CND supporter, Paul Flynn MP, a month ago, stating: "The UK National Report submitted in February in advance of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference set out steps we have taken to support the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. ...We have also met our commitment to reduce the number of operationally available warheads to no more than 120. We have worked to strengthen the international non-proliferation regime, most notably through our role in securing an agreement involving strict limits and inspections on Iran's nuclear programme." (answer
17553, 1 December)

When will the multilateralism start?

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

How Britain helped North Korean nuclear weapons programme

The overnight news that North Korea has successfully tested its first hydrogen (H-) nuclear warhead ( an assertion which has been seriously questioned by US nuclear weapons experts) has set the media and politicians running (“North Korea Says It Has Detonated Its First Hydrogen Bomb,“ ) pronouncing concerns over the impact on global security.
What hasn’t n been discussed is how British nuclear designs have been purloined by the North Koreans to build production plants for their nuclear explosives.
There is significant evidence that the British Magnox nuclear plant design – which was primarily built as a military plutonium production factory – provided the blueprint for the North Korean military plutonium programme based in Yongbyon. Here is what Douglas (now Lord) Hogg, then a Conservative minister, admitted in a written parliamentary reply in 1994: “We do not know whether North Korea has drawn on plans of British reactors in the production of its own reactors. North Korea possesses a graphite moderated reactor which, while much smaller, has generic similarities to the reactors operated by British Nuclear Fuels plc. However, design information of these British reactors is not classified and has appeared in technical journals.”
(Douglas Hogg, written parliamentary reply to Labour MP Llew Smith, Hansard 25 May  1994).
The uranium enrichment programmes of both North Korea and Iran also have a UK connection. The blueprints of this type of plant were stolen by Pakistani scientist, A Q Khan, from the URENCO enrichment plant in The Netherlands in the early 1970s.
(see David Albright, Peddling Peril,2010 pp 15-28,Free Press, New York)
This plant was -  and remains -  one-third owned by the UK government. The Pakistan government subsequently sold the technology to Iran, who later exchanged it for North Korean Nodong missiles.
A technical delegation from the A Q Khan Research Labs visited North Korea in the summer of 1996. The secret enrichment plant was said to be based in caves near Kumch’ang-ni, 100 miles north of the capital, Pyonyang, where US satellite photos showed tunnel entrances being built. Hwang Jang-yop, a former aid to President Kim Il-sung (the grandfather of the current North Korean President) who defected in 1997, revealed details to Western intelligence investigators
(Levy A, Scott-Clark C Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Global Weapons Conspiracy, 2007, p.281, Atlantic Books)
Magnox machinations
Magnox is a now obsolete type of nuclear power plant ( except in North Korea)  which was designed by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) in the early 1950s,  and was exported to Italy and Japan The name magnox comes from the alloy used to clad the fuel rods inside the reactor.
The plutonium production reactors at Calder Hall on the Sellafield site – then called Windscale, operated by the UKAEA) – were opened by the young Queen Elizabeth, on 17 October 1956. But it was never meant as a commercial civilian nuclear plant: the UKAEA official historian Kenneth Jay wrote about Calder Hall, in his short book of the same name, published to coincide with the opening of the plant. [He referred to] “major plants built for military purposes, such as Calder Hall.” (p.88) Earlier, he wrote: “… The plant has been designed as a dual-purpose plant, to produce plutonium for military purposes as well as electric power.” (p.80)
.The term magnox also encompasses:
·         Three North Korean reactors, all based on the open access blueprints of the Calder Hall Magnox reactors, including :
·         A small 5 MWe experimental reactor at Yongbyon, operated from 1986 to 1994, and restarted in 2003. Plutonium from this reactor's spent fuel has been used in the North Korea nuclear weapons program.
·         A 50 MWe reactor, also at Yongbyon, whose construction commenced in 1985 but was never finished in accord with the 1994 U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework.
·         A 200 MWe reactor at Taechon, construction of which also halted in 1994.
Why enrich the people when you can enrich uranium?
Olli Heinonen, senior fellow at the internationally reknown  Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University in the US has explained how North Korea obtained its uranium enrichment capability
He wrote five years ago:
“The pre-eminence of Juche, the political thesis of Kim Il Sung, stresses independence from great powers, a strong military posture, and reliance on national resources. Faced with an impoverished economy, political isolation from the world, and rich uranium deposits, nuclear power—both civilian as well as military—fulfills all three purposes.
History and hindsight have shown a consistency in North Korea’s efforts to develop its own nuclear capability. One of the first steps North Korea took was to assemble a strong national cadre of nuclear technicians and scientists. In 1955, North Korea established its Atomic Energy Research Institute. In 1959, it signed an agreement with the Soviet Union to train North Korean personnel in nuclear related disciplines. The Soviets also helped the North Koreans establish a nuclear research center and built a 2 MW IRT nuclear research reactor at Yongbyon, which began operation in 1969.
Throughout the 1970s, North Korea continued to develop its nuclear capabilities, pursuing a dual track approach that was consistent with the idea of nuclear self-reliance. While engaging in discussions to obtain Light Water Reactors (LWRs) from the Soviet Union, North Korea proceeded with parallel studies on graphite moderated gas cooled reactors, using publicly available information based on the Magnox reactor design."
North Korea also carried out plutonium separation experiments at its Isotope Production Laboratory (IPL), and successfully separated plutonium in the same decade. The North Koreans worked on the design of a reprocessing plant for which, the chemical process was modeled after the Eurochemic plant. Eurochemic was a research plant dedicated to the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. It was owned by thirteen countries which shared and widely published technologies developed. The plant, located in Dessel, Belgium, operated from 1966 to 1974.
When negotiations to acquire four LWRs from the Soviet Union failed, North Korea had already embarked on its indigenous nuclear program. Throughout the 1980s, North Korea constructed a 5MWe reactor, fuel fabrication plant, and a reprocessing plant at Yongbyon, with no known documented external help and with minimal foreign equipment procured. When the joint statement on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was concluded in December 1991, all three facilities had been fully operational for a number of years, with two additional (50 MWe and 200 MWe) graphite moderated gas cooled reactors under construction.
North Korea’s closed society and isolationist position has made it immensely difficult to accurately gauge its nuclear activities. Pyongyang has gone to great lengths to hide much of its nuclear program, including its enrichment route. Nevertheless, there have been indications, including procurement related evidence, that point in the direction that North Korea has been actively pursuing enrichment since the mid-1990s, with likely exploratory attempts made up to a decade earlier.
It is clear that North Korea received a key boost in its uranium enrichment capability from Pakistan through the A.Q. Khan network. Deliveries of P-1 and P-2 centrifuges, special oils, and other equipment from Pakistan to North Korea in the late 1990s were acknowledged by former Pakistani President General P. Musharraf in his memoirs, “In the Line of Fire.” President Musharraf also wrote that, separately, North Korean engineers were provided training at A.Q. Khan’s Research Laboratories in Kahuta under the auspices of a government-to-government deal on missile technology that had been established in 1994. In all likelihood, North Korea also received the blue prints for centrifuges and other related process equipment from the Khan network during that period of time.
In the late 1980s, North Korea acquired vacuum equipment from a German company. While such equipment was primarily meant for North Korea’s fuel fabrication plant then under construction, some of the vacuum pumps could have been used for enrichment experiments. But additional attempts made in 2002 to again acquire vacuum technology after the completion of the fuel fabrication plant strongly pointed to its use for enrichment purposes. Evidence of North Korea’s procurement activities in the late 1990s to the early 2000s showed its objective to achieve industrial or semi-industrial scale enrichment capacity, based on a more efficient Pakistani P-2 centrifuge design. In 1997, an attempt was made to acquire large amounts of maraging steel suitable for manufacturing centrifuges. In 2002/2003, North Korea successfully procured large quantities of high strength aluminum from Russia and the United Kingdom, another requirement in making centrifuges.
 A simple tally of the amounts and types of equipment and material sought by North Korea suggests plans to develop a 5000-centrifuge strong enrichment capacity. This appears consistent with a separate earlier enrichment offer A. Q. Khan had made to Libya.
For North Korea to have embarked on procuring equipment and materials meant for a (semi)industrial scale enrichment facility,[3] it is highly likely that the known Uranium Enrichment Workshop (UEW) at Yongbyon, which in reality approximates a full sized facility, is not the only one that exists. More workshops would have been needed to serve as test beds for pilot cascades of P-1 and P-2 centrifuges prior to (semi)industrial scale enrichment operations. While we have signs of North Korea’s enrichment goals, the final picture remains unclear given that the actual amount of items procured remains unknown. This problem is compounded by the fact that the North Koreans have and are continuing to source nuclear material and equipment from several parties. Moreover, there remains a high degree of uncertainty concerning the level of North Korea’s enrichment technology development.
In April 2009, after expelling IAEA inspectors, North Korea publicly announced for the first time that it was proceeding with its own enrichment program. To reinforce its intentions, North Korea followed up with a letter to the UN Security Council on September 3 to confirm that it was embarking on an enrichment phase. In November 2010, the North Koreans unveiled to Siegfried Hecker, a pre-eminent nuclear expert and former director of the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, an enrichment facility in Yongbyon with 2000 centrifuge machines similar to the P-2 version, built with maraging steel rotors.( S. Hecker, Redefining Denuclearization in North Korea, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, December 20, 2010.)
Implications and Consequences
(On March 22, 2011, North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, portrayed Libya’s decision to give up its nuclear weapons as a mistake that opened the country to NATO intervention following its domestic Arab Spring uprising. Such conclusions drawn by North Korea make an already difficult case to engage North Korea to give up its nuclear weapon deterrence that much harder. At the same time, the alternative of disengagement will in all likelihood bring about greater problems.
In engaging North Korea, several key hurdles have to be tackled. First, North Korea shows a poor proliferation record. It was the suspected supply source of UF6 to Libya via the A.Q. Khan network. There is also mounting evidence that North Korea was involved in the construction of a secret nuclear reactor at Dair Alzour in Syria that was subsequently destroyed in 2007. It is plausible that North Korean personnel assisted Syria in building the reactor.
(“North Korea’s Nuclear Enrichment: Capabilities and Consequences" Op-Ed, 38; 22 June 2011
End note

The Western Mail newspaper’s report on the closure of Wales’ last nuclear power plant, at Wylfa on Anglesey, marks an important moment in Welsh industrial history.
Wylfa Site Director Stuart Law is reported as saying the closure marks a “safe and dignified end to the generation of electricity at Wylfa” and that the main focus for the coming months is to prepare staff and the site for defuelling the Magnox reactors, originally ordered by the now defunct nationalised power generator, the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) in the late 1960s.
But the account of the 44 years of operating life of the reactor omits one important aspect: the production of plutonium for use in nuclear warheads, both in Britain and the US.
This was first revealed in an exclusive Western Mail front page story by your then political editor, Sarah Neville, on October 8, 1984. It was followed in more detail by former Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, Llew Smith – for whom I used to do research – in a feature article in the Western Mail on March 3, 1986, followed by a letter in the paper from Mr Smith (“Safety problems at Wylfa Nuclear plant”, December 11, 1995).
Mr Smith cited an interview I conducted on January 19, 1983, with the late Lord Hinton, the first chairman of the CEGB, in which he said to me: “Wylfa is a long and sad story. It ought not to have been built at all, but when I suggested this to the Permanent Secretary [at what is now the Department of Energy and Climate Change] he said you have got to build it in order to meet the government programme.”
The programme to which Lord Hinton referred was not electricity generation but plutonium production, as became clear in the Sizewell B nuclear plant public inquiry, which had just begun when I interviewed Lord Hinton.
During that inquiry, Professor Keith Barnham who, with myself, gave expert evidence for the CND Sizewell Working Group, produced technical evidence demonstrating that around 630kg (+ or – 80 kg) of plutonium produced in UK magnox reactors had been exported to the US for military use (a nuclear warhead typically uses 5-10kg). This research was published in detail in the prestigious science weekly journal Nature on September 19, 1985.
A decade later, in October 1995, a former Labour peer, the late Lord Hugh Jenkins of Putney, a life-long CND supporter, asked the Government in a written Parliamentary question “how much plutonium Wylfa nuclear power station has created since it began operation in 1971, where it has gone and where is it now, and what relationship there is at the plant between plutonium production and the generation of electricity”.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, answering for the Conservative Government, said: “Since 1986/87, estimates of the plutonium contained in the reactor discharges at Wylfa power station have been published as part of the annual plutonium figures. I cannot answer for previous administrations.
“Amounts arising from Wylfa continue to contribute to the United Kingdom’s civil holdings under international safeguards…Irradiated fuel from Britain’s various civil Magnox reactors is reprocessed together and therefore the plutonium arising, whether in store or exported, is not linked to the specific power station in which it was created.”
The give-away is the minister’s admission that nuclear fuel from all Magnox reactors was “reprocessed together” (at Sellafield) and hence the recovered plutonium loses its identity.
The export of UK plutonium to the US took place under a controversial 1958 bilateral UK-US deal, called the Mutual Defense Agreement on Atomic Energy Matters. The word defence is spelled with an “s” even in the British edition, giving away the origin of its drafters in the US!
When this draft agreement was discussed in the US Congress on February 4, 1958 (it was never debated in the British Parliament at all before coming into force) Lewis Strauss, chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, let slip the following nugget of information on the aim of the deal with the UK: “This is primarily to supply plutonium to us for our unrestricted use, which is to say, at present, our military use.”
This UK-US MDA was most recently renewed in October 2014, and, despite being challenged by the then Labour backbench MP Jeremy Corbyn, in a Parliamentary debate on November 6, 2014, remains in force.
So when Wylfa’s final discharge of spent nuclear fuel is finally reprocessed at Sellafield, the plutonium could still end up in US nuclear warheads. We should not be complacent about this.
(“Little-known function of Welsh power plant”; Western Mail, letters, 4 January 2016

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

How the CIA Assassinates a Conference Room Full of People

CIA's Conference Room Assassination Plan.
CIA’s Conference Room Assassination Plan.
How the CIA Assassinates a Conference Room Full of People
The CIA has released its technique on how to assassinate a conference room full of people. The CIA boasts that by using its “effective technique…a room containing as many as a dozen subjects can be ‘purified’ in about 20 seconds.” The conference assassination technique comes from a declassified guide entitled “Study of Assassinations. It requires two assassins to take tums, surprising, intimidating, corralling, and shooting, their victims. The last, most important step: “Leave[] propaganda.”

Chinese nuclear safety must be fully scrutinized: but will it be in UK?‏

Letter to The Financial Times:

 Your report on the industrial implications for the UK of the first proposed Chinese designed nuclear power plant (“Nuclear energy: Beijing’s power play,” December 30
While Guo Ruiting, China General Nuclear (CGN) Power Corp’s deputy chief engineer for the Taishan EPR-design nuclear plant near Hong Kong - which would be the ‘reference plant” for the projected new build plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset, - may be “bullish” in calling his reactor “ the safest,” other Chinese nuclear safety experts are not so sanguine about Chinese nuclear safety
Nuclear industry veteran Li Yulun, a former vice-president of CNNC (China National Nuclear Corp) observed two years ago "Our state leaders have put a high priority on [nuclear safety] but companies executing projects do not seem to have the same level of understanding." (“China nuclear plant delay raises safety concern,” South China Morning Post, 7 October 2013,
The world's first AP1000 third-generation nuclear power plant – the competitor for the Taishan  design - being built in Sanmen in China, has fallen behind schedule, and questions have increasingly been raised over its safety standards.
Just as the EPR and Japanese-design Advanced Boiling Water Reactor developed by Hitachi ( with US company GE) have had to undergo painstaking independent safety and security evaluation by the UK’s independent Office for Nuclear Regulation, so too will the Chinese nuclear plant design, in a process known as Generic Design Assessment.
This scrutiny may come as a rude shock to the Chinese nuclear plant manufacturers, who are used to what is effectively self-regulation inside China, as state-owned companies.
It will be especially interesting to see if the ONR subject the CGN reactor design to intrusive probing on its claimed security status, both in terms of physical robustness against external malevolent intrusion, and internally with its cyber security for its complex computer systems.