To an audience including a visitor from Herefordshire and one from Stourbridge, Chris Crean (Friends of the Earth) announced that he would rather “throw out depth charges” than lecture.

But before doing that he paid tribute to unpaid activists in the audience who – over the years – created the momentum leading to the formation of environmental organisations. Diana Stableforth was one such: a sociology lecturer at Birmingham Polytechnic (now City University).

apollo 17 missionMany had been inspired by landmarks like Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring and – ten years later – the Apollo 17 Mission image of the earth showing the Antarctic icecap, Africa, a part of Asia, Indonesia and the western edge of Australia.

Chris pointed out that environmental concerns about the consequences of the manufacturing and use of nuclear power, of nuclear proliferation and war seem ‘blindingly obvious’; radiation leaks at every stage of the manufacturing, testing, storage and disposal processes and this affects us all – some being more susceptible than others. One of many studies into the climatic consequences of nuclear conflict looked at the cooling impact on the higher atmosphere, affecting life patterns and food production.

The knowledge underpinning these concerns had been gained by NGOs using the Freedom of Information Act and many will remember MP Llew Smith, and his research assistant David Lowry, who tabled hundreds of questions in the 90s, probing the official secrecy surrounding nuclear reprocessing, radiation risks, the use of plutonium, nuclear proliferation, leaks of nuclear material, activities at Sellafield and many related issues.

A sorrowful story

chris creanSuch information had started the process of reaching agreement to test ban treaties. Nuclear testing had impacts on those involved in administering them and on indigenous inhabitants; Chris (right) said it was a sorrowful story of industry and governments colluding against their own people.

He recalled the legal challenge by Leigh Day, during which Professor Gardner, head of the Medical Research Council’s epidemiological unit at Southampton, gave evidence of a link between external radiation received by male staff at Sellafield and the development of cancer among their children. These concerns were reinforced in 2010 by the publication of a book by the former director of British Nuclear Fuels.

Despite Professor Gardner’s research, arms of the industry have vigorously denied ‘causality’. Some people attending the lecture remember the work of Dr Alice Stewart (University of Birmingham) who studied radiation-induced illness among workers at the Hanford plutonium production plant, Washington, “Radiation exposures of Hanford workers dying from cancer and other causes”. Health Physics (MacLean VA: Health Physics Society) 33: 369–385.

However, as Chris Crean said, today we breathe in a toxic cocktail of emissions from incinerators, power stations and transport – how can the effects of radiation be isolated? He ended:

The nuclear industry is a massive waste of money and resources, featherbedded financially, with secrets protected by the state. We have not cleaned up any of our spent nuclear sites or worked out a storage policy. All nations need to recognise and work towards a common goal until the track record demonstrates that the nuclear industry is open, safe and accountable.