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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Windscale 1957 : Greenham 1981: Heathrow 2007

The summer is almost over. Not that there has been very much of it. Mostly grey and overcast here, with almost daily rain. Right now the sun is shining, but hardly blazing down. Callum is having an afternoon nap - which gives me a few minutes to write, but means he will be awake til midnight no doubt.

Pivture : Queen opening Windscale 1956

With the Heathrow Climate Change Camp making the headlines it would be nice to have some time to reflect on it a bit, but difficult to get too deeply into things when I am listening out for a shout of ’Dad, I need a pee/ Dad I have need a pooh’…. easy enough to deal with for a toddler, bit more difficult with an adult size 16 year old who needs to be lifted onto a Seahorse toilet chair rapidly. So it goes.

I have a Google News Alert running on the Climate Change Camp and from it I think I found a Daily Telegraph editorial comparing the camp to Greenham as an example of idiocy. Apparently it was because there were Cruise missiles at Greenham that the Cold War ended and communism collapsed… so logically we need to build a third runway at Heathrow and increase air travel in order to halt global climate change. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology this sensible [irony, irony, they all have it iron for me - carry on revolting quote] comment was followed up by lots of wonderful responses by Telegraph readers like Mrs Skull.

Mrs Skull was an 80ies Greenham Common / Newbury resident who used to lean out of her window and cheer on the police/ army/ bailiffs/ cruise Convoys . Or was she a figment of my late wife’s OTT imagination? Will need to fact check with my Greenham books.

Hang on, found Telegraph piece - 14 August plus comments -see [copy and paste]


The illegal encampment of climate change activists near the perimeter of Heathrow Airport carries echoes of another protest from a quarter of a century ago. The women's peace camp at Greenham Common airbase was set up to oppose the deployment of American Cruise missiles. It failed spectacularly.

The missiles were deployed and helped hasten the end of the Cold War.
The camp remained in existence for 19 years, long after the missiles were sent back to America, their mission accomplished. There is a similar flavour to the Heathrow protest.

Like Greenham, it will doubtless attract many earnest, well-meaning people who actually believe that air travel is destroying the planet. As at Greenham, this appears to be a largely emotional response to an inchoate threat that will allow the campers to say they are "doing their bit" against global warming. But are they? Air travel has proved a popular whipping boy for the climate change industry, yet its contribution to global warming is small. To counter-balance that, air travel has proved both a wonderful personal liberator and a crucial engine of economic growth. While BAA's responsibility for the shambles of Heathrow deserves criticism, holding it responsible for climate change is fatuous. If the protesters want a punch bag, they should try the Government.

It emerged yesterday that, for all its rhetoric about being in the vanguard on climate change, Labour is proving a laggard. It seems a demob-happy Tony Blair earlier this year signed up to stringent new EU emission targets that we haven't a hope of hitting. In best New Labour fashion, ministers are now being advised to fiddle the figures. The answer for protesters and ministers alike is technology - and specifically, an expansion in nuclear-generating capacity. It is the only realistic carbon-free option for keeping the lights on indefinitely. After a decade of dithering, the Government finally signalled in the energy White Paper that it is ready to go nuclear. Will the eco-campers endorse the move? Of course not. Their next camp, we predict, will be pitched outside a nuclear power station.

Some of the comments:

As a nation, we have (or should have) grown out of these childish protests. It was the stuff of pompous brats in the sixties, many of whom eventually grew up to become sensible people. If this encampment is illegal, why has it not been removed by the police? Given that this is the holiday season and hard-working families are wanting their break in the sun, any disruption by these pests should be treated with the utmost severity. The climate change scam is just the latest of 'causes' to engage the attention mischief-makers and intellectual invalids. And, as often as not, the police stand idly by - doubtless as instructed by some trendy, graduate Chief Constable flashing his PC credentials. Where are the water cannons and baton charges - bring 'em on! Posted by Graham King on August 14, 2007 7:36 AM

Although inconvenient in the short term, these protests will probably turn out to be a good thing. Just as digging up dead bodies completely killed the anti-vivisection argument, with more people than ever in favour, the more outlandish, violent and disruptive these protests are, the more chance there is of killing off the giant hoax that there is such a thing as man-made global warming.
Posted by Car Bon on August 14, 2007 8:45 AM

Air travel amounts for less than 10% of emissions. These protesters have jumped on an easy bandwagon when it is the internal combustion engine not the jets of aircraft which is the real issue of any scale. I weary of so called green protests. Frankly I don't see anything remotely green about square mile after mile of the environment plastered with windmills or ever tidal barrages. Let's just go nuclear big time in a second power generation build and join the real world. Guns into ploughshares could become warheads into reactors.
Posted by simon coulter on August 14, 2007 9:13 AM

Have you noticed videos of the protesters on TV? - the same hippyish style as those who protest on every modish subject imaginable or are to be found at Glastonbury or approve the gibberish of Robert Zimmerman.
Posted by John Holland on August 14, 2007 11:21 AM

Here we go again! I suppose it is about time the 'great unwashed' found another 'cause celebre' to disrupt people going about their lawful business. Mobile offices for benefit claimants will be arranged, medical facilities will be available on site, local authorities will arrange special collections of their large amounts of tin cans and locals will suffer because authorities refuse to ensure peace and cleanliness. These layabouts will receive privileges and services denied to people who have to work every day. My solution? Revert the land camped on to agriculture and initiate it with regular muck spreading.
Posted by Roy G on August 14, 2007 10:49 AM

Brilliant stuff… . Let's just go nuclear big time in a second power generation build and join the real world.

It is like punk never happened! It is like nothing ever happened. As if we are still living in that glad glorious morning back in 1956 when the civil Windscale nuclear reactor first went online.

From http://www.bnfleducation.com/sellafield/in_the_past.html

Sellafield started life during the Second World War (1939-45). At that time it was known as Windscale. The Ministry of Supply bought the Windscale site and a facility near the village of Drigg which is a few miles to the south. Windscale was developed into factories producing TNT explosives, and the facility near Drigg was used for testing and storing ammunition. After the war, the British Government decided that Britain should have its own nuclear weapons programme which would require the production of plutonium.

The government looked around for a suitable site for this and found that Windscale had a good supply of water for cooling purposes which are essential for running nuclear reactors. It was isolated which was good for safety and security reasons, and there were sufficient people in the area to provide a workforce.
Construction work began in 1947 on the Windscale piles. These were atomic piles, or in other words nuclear reactors.

The two Windscale Piles were built solely to produce plutonium for military purposes at that time. In October 1952, the first British Atom Bomb test took place in the Monte Bello Islands, off the North West Coast of Australia.

Five years later a fire broke out in the core of Windscale Pile 1. Emergency teams fought to bring the fire under control, eventually deciding to flood the reactor. As a result of the fire both Windscale 1 and 2 reactors were closed and have not operated since. They are now being decommissioned (dismantled).

The site is today known as Sellafield.
Back in 1952 scientists knew that the great amount of heat produced in a nuclear reactor could be used to make electricity. In 1953 work began at Sellafield to build Calder Hall, the world's first civil nuclear power station. Reactor 1 was officially opened by Her majesty the Queen in October 1956, and by 1959 there were four nuclear reactors up and running, producing electricity which fed into the National Grid for domestic and industrial use. Calder Hall ended operations in March 2003 after 50 years of continuous service.

The Windscale Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor was constructed at Sellafield, for research purposes. It was the prototype reactor from which the 14 other Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR) power stations were constructed to provide electricity for Britain. It closed in 1981 when all the experimental work had been carried out. It is now being decommissioned (dismantled).

From http://www.lakestay.co.uk/1957.htm

Personal note: according to this, the radition from the 1957 Windscale fire spread south-easterly. This was lucky for me. I was born in 30 September 1958 so would have been conceived January 1957 about 40 miles due north of Windscale/ Sellafield on Scottish side of the Solway Firth.

In October 1957 Britain spread a plume of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere from a nuclear reactor fire at Sellafield. Having helped the US Manhattan Project develop the atom bomb at the end of the Second World War, the British government felt it had to develop its own A bomb to be able to stay “at the Top Table” as a world power. The Americans had refused to allow Britain to have the weapons technology its own scientists had helped develop. Without any reference to Parliament great energy was poured into producing a British bomb. (The first time MP s were told officially was through a brief announcement in 1947) One key requirement were reactors to burn uranium and produce plutonium. It was decided to use an old ammunition factory at Windscale (now called Sellafield). The site had plenty of cooling water from Wastwater lake and was remote from population in case of any accidental nuclear incidents. At a time of post war austerity two huge heavily shielded reinforced concrete “piles” were built at break neck speed and by 1950 the piles were operating. Alongside the first nuclear reprocessing plant (B204) had also been built to extract the precious plutonium. It was in February 1952 that the first salmon tin sized billets of plutonium were ferried south in the boot of a taxi to the new Aldermaston weapons factory near Oxford. Britain’s first A bomb, code named Hurricane was detonated off the cost of Australia in October 1952. These early plutonium reactors were crude affairs with the main objective being to get the weapons material as quickly as possible. Each “pile” was a honeycomb of carved graphite blocks. Hundreds of horizontal channels ran from the front (charge face) of the reactor to the rear discharge face. Some 35,000 aluminium cans of uranium were pushed into these channels to assemble the critical mass for the chain reactions to burn away. As they generated the intense heat and neutron flux of a nuclear chain reaction some of the uranium converts into plutonium. The fuel cans which had undergone this fiery transformation were a few weeks later pushed through to drop out of the discharge side of the reactor. They then travelled by a mini boat along a water duct into the adjoining reprocessing plant. All this had to take place behind several feet of concrete shielding to cut down the intense penetrating radiation. Each reactor weighed a total of 57,000 tonnes. Because the graphite could release its own latent heat suddenly and unexpectedly the entire reactor had to be deliberately heated up to aneal the graphite. On October 8, 1957 a technician was heating up the reactor to release this so called Wigner energy. Because of the inadequacy of the temperature measuring instrumentation the control room staff mistakenly thought the reactor was cooling down too much and needed an extra boost of heating. Thus temperatures were actually abnormally high when at 11.05am the control rods were withdrawn for a routine start to the reactor's chain reaction. A canister of lithium and magnesium, also in the reactor to create tritium for a British H bomb, was probably the first can to burst and ignite in the soaring temperatures. This coupled with igniting uranium and graphite sent temperatures soaring to 1,300 degrees centigrade. These early plutonium "piles" were cooled by massive fans blowing air through them. The heat and some contamination was then carried up the famous concrete chimneys that are such a symbol of the Sellafield skyline. As the fire raged radioactivity was carried aloft. Blue flames shot out of the back face of the reactor and the filters on the top of the chimneys could only hold back a small proportion of the radioactivity. An estimated 20,000 curies of radioactive iodine escaped along with other isotopes such as plutonium, caesium and the highly toxic polonium. In the days that followed a dangerous cloud of 'fallout' was carried in a south easterly direction towards cities in the North of England. The scientists were unsure how to deal with the raging fire. Workers were sent in relays to use scaffolding poles to frantically push out hundreds of fuel cans to try and make a fire break around the fire. Then they tried to pump in carbon dioxide gas to try and smother the flames, but the heat was such that oxygen was produced from the gas and thus fed the flames higher. The scientists then had to gamble on flooding the reactor with cooling water. The risk they were aware of was that explosive hydrogen and or acetylene gas could be created and then flash over into an explosion. As this critical decision was being taken the temperatures were climbing by 20 degrees a minute. Luckily the gamble paid off and the water starved the fire of oxygen and the reactor was brought under control. Yet even today as the fateful chimneys are slowly taken down by shielded robots the centre of the fire crippled reactor of Pile one still contains molten uranium and still gives off a gentle heat. There is still unreleased Wigner energy in the graphite and water hoses are still left connected to the charge face as a final safety precaution. Despite reassurances given to the public at the time the official National Radiological Protection Board estimated in a 1987 study that at least 33 people are likely to die prematurely from cancers as a result of the accident.

So it goes. Goodness me, I am so naïve and stupid I really think that the ‘hippy’ protestors at the Heathrow Climate Change Protest Camp may just be a bit more sussed than the ‘lets go nuclear / cheap holidays on other people’s misery / global warming is a con ‘ readers of the Daily Telegraph.

Tom Vague has just suggested that me and him alone “still represent the true spirit of anarcho-punk. Albeit in the extended anarcho-pop-Situationist-pagan-magick-positive-goth-proto-rap and rave-punk form.”

I do hope Tom is wrong on this . I hope the spirit is with the Heathrow ‘hippies’ and even with you, dear reader.

Love and chaos ,
AL Puppy


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