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Fear of nuclear annihilation returns

THE THREAT of nuclear annihilation, "what we can do and why it matters to the NUJ" were discussed at May's LFB meeting. Our speaker was Committee member Elizabeth Ingrams, a campaigner against nuclear weapons who has been "on the ground working with survivors in Japan". It was Elizabeth who put Late Notice Motion 34, passed at the NUJ's Delegate Meeting 2021, which committed the Union to supporting the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Elizabeth Ingrams; Photo: Matt Salusbury

Elizabeth Ingrams joins via Zoom

We are facing a "nuclear blackmail nightmare scenario" - again - said Elizabeth. With war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has threatened NATO countries with nuclear strikes. US and French submarines have arrived at the British naval base at Faslane. Had Ukraine not given up nukes when the Soviet Union collapsed, that country "possibly would have been in a nuclear war," according to Elizabeth.

There are still at least 13,000 nuclear warheads in the world today. Nuclear proliferation is back, with belligerent talk about acquiring nuclear weapons. A survey in Poland shows a "high degree of support" - 66 per cent - for an independent nuclear deterrent. The idea of acquiring nukes is also becoming more popular in the Baltic States. US President Biden’s 2023 defence budget requests a big upgrade to the US's nuclear arsenal, while the US "is considering - or perhaps already has deployed" - nuclear weapons to RAF Lakenheath, a US airbase in Suffolk.

While their country having nukes may make some people "feel secure", if this has a basis it's in "deterrence theory". And that is based on the false belief that people behave rationally. It could take only one per cent of the world's current arsenal to start a nuclear winter, devastating agriculture for a decade. A single nuclear strike would bring with it firestorms and radioactive black rain, making it "impossible for fire fighters to respond." Even in what had been a well-functioning healthcare system, little healthcare survived in Nagasaki after the nuclear strike there on 9 August 1945.

The UN Security Council pledged in January that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought". Parallel with the growth of the climate change movement and support for sustainable development goals, there have been three global conferences on nuclear weapons in the last eight years. These led to a Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons - which puts a deadline on the elimination of nuclear weapons.

This is based on existing treaties that ban cluster bombs, chemical weapons and land-mines and that "hold governments responsible". These existing treaties show that nightmares of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) can recede. Elizabeth noted of these other WMDs that "nobody thinks biological weapons keep you safe."

The latest stage in the Treaty process is the Meeting of the State Parties to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna on 21-23 June. This is convened by non-nuclear states. The UK has "vigorously opposed" progress in this area. It has boycotted Treaty meetings, as have the other eight states with nuclear weapons.

What can NUJ members do? Motion 34 commits the NUJ to campaigning along with the trade union movement, lobbying the UK government to attend the conference - at least as an observer if not a signatory. Members can write to their MPs. "Support the treaty," says Elizabeth, there "isn't enough discussion" of it.

Questions

Duncan Campbell (one of two Duncans Campbell at the meeting) has worked to get the UK government to reveal information on its nuclear contingency plans. He has a writing credit for Threads - a chilling 1980s drama documentary about a nuclear attack on Sheffield.

During the meeting Duncan was watching on other screens the tracking of "AWACS" early warning planes circling the UK and a "British spy plane" returning from Ukraine. Of Putin's threat to use nukes, Duncan said that the threat is real and imminent. He is now working to bring out secret government files held in the National Archive that show its assessment that the UK after a nuclear attack is "over". The assessment "doesn't talk about survivors": there will be "lethal radiation across England" and we need to get this information out. Secret government nuclear plans, says Duncan, anticipate that "the UK government probably won't survive." A "few coastal depots" might.

Would we even get a siren warning us of a nuclear attack? Duncan revealed that UK's early warning system "has been completely dismantled". It may still be possible to warn of a conventional attack via the BBC or to "send everyone a text message," but "no sirens, no."

  • 20 May 2022: healthcare in Nagasaki was severely damaged.