How Valentines should go nuclear

Valentines and nuclear waste - a novel gift idea for your loved one...

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Love is compulsorily in the air and we’re all being urged to buy, buy, buy to prove it. But marking the day with more than a simple (recycled) card is full of ethical pitfalls. If you’re a Green, what are the options?

A short-haul mini break to hold hands in a European city is obviously out of the question. Similarly, diamonds have been tainted with every ethical dirty stick there is, including genocide, so I can’t see myself lusting after any of those. And any flowers available at this time of year, even if they haven’t been soaked with chemicals throughout their lives, are likely to have been either forced up in overheated greenhouses or flown in from warmer parts of the world.

Supporting a local restauranteur with a candle-lit dinner seems like the best idea for Wednesday, although I have probably left it too late to book anything now. Greenpeace’s case against the Energy Review has hit the High Court at the same time as the Green Party is focusing on Trident, so I have been busy with nuclear-related businesses most of this week.

The Greens are supporting Greenpeace’s case and put in a witness statement detailing how the consultation leading up to last year’s Energy Review was too short. It also asked questions that were hard to answer sensibly, and which betrayed the Government’s foregone conclusion to endorse a new round of nuclear power stations, and all of this went into the statement as well. I went to the Old Bailey on the first day of the case last Wednesday along with reps from the other groups supporting the case, including UNISON, the PCS union, Nuclear Free Local Authorities and the Welsh Anti-Nuclear Alliance.

At lunchtime, I joined a Green Party delegation to 10 Downing Street to deliver a letter outlining our objections to another huge waste of money that it’s hard to believe Labour are planning – the renewal of our Trident weapons of mass destruction.

Later on I went to meet Under-Secretary of Defence, Derek Twigg, with Green MEP Caroline Lucas. The MoD agreed to this meeting in lieu of us being able to take part in the rubber stamping debate that will be held in Parliament, and we grilled him quite thoroughly on the various moral, practical, financial and diplomatic madnesses associated with replacing the UK’s ‘nuclear deterrent’.

Predictably, we didn’t hear much new. Mr Twigg has memorised all the dodgy assumptions from the Defence White Paper issued in December, and he didn’t deviate an inch from these lines when we tackled him. Still, we left them some written questions to answer, and at least I got to see some first-class ministerial doublethink in the flesh.

Also this week, proposals for what to do with the nuclear waste from our current nuclear power stations were endorsed by the Geological Society of London. Tons of highly radioactive material has been sitting around at places like Sellafield for years while the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) tried to come up with a safe way of storing it in the long term. ‘Geological disposal’ is now the preferred plan – i.e. burying it under ground for a really, really long time and hoping for the best – and now the RGS has agreed this is the least risky way of coping with it.

The conjunction of all this nuclear action with wondering what to do about Valentine’s Day gave me a curious thought. If diamonds are actually forever, nuclear waste very nearly lasts that long, so could the Government perhaps save a bit on the cost of burying all that waste by enlisting the help of the man who can sell anything, Richard Branson? To complement Virgin Atlantic’s flights, Virgin Galactic’s near-space travel and Virgin Health Bank’s stem cell storage plan, he could launch ‘Virgin Isotopic – the nuclear option for lovers’.

It’s a simple idea. Romantic souls looking for the ultimate gesture would pay – say - £200 to have their declaration of love etched (with lasers!) onto one of the copper cylinders in which spent nuclear fuel will be contained. The personalised canisters would be taken to a depository far under ground and then kept completely safe and secure under every conceivable political or geological circumstance for hundreds of thousands of years.

A ‘business class’ option could be added to the scheme, where the different nuclear isotopes in the waste would be separated and customers given a choice of radioactive elements to reflect the level of their commitment. More cynical or realistic lovers could opt for a cylinder of caesium-137 – with a half-life of 34 years, this material could be safely handled again after less than a thousand years. Idealists could opt instead for a batch of plutonium-239 – its half-life of 24,000 years means the canister would remain lethal effectively forever.

Thinking about it, this is a definite winner. After all, unlike a diamond ring, it’s incredibly unlikely any of this stuff will be lost or stolen. Well, let’s hope not anyway.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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I somehow feel very different this year, waving my teenager off to Pride

I thought times had changed, and was glad – then Orlando hit me like a smack in the face.

When I guest-edited Radio 4’s Today programme a couple of years ago, one of my chosen topics was young people and the internet, and specifically the way in which it can be such a positive force for gay teens who are coming to understand themselves and to find friends and allies. This item was entirely inspired by my own teenager, who came out at the age of 15, and had already found an online community of help, support and friendship.

Back when I was a teenager, I didn’t know anyone who was gay. Well, of course I did, but didn’t know it. My friend had a boyfriend with whom things never quite worked out, and when he came out years later it all made sense. We didn’t talk about it or wonder about it at the time. We sang “Glad to Be Gay” and thought we were cool and we knew nothing.

My kids, on the other hand, know everything, and they’ve taught me so much, mostly in terms of theory and terminology. I’d still thought I was cool but it turned out that in fact I was 53 and out of date, and they dragged me cheerfully into the second decade of the 21st century, blinking, dusting myself down.

The whole experience was a happy one, on both sides. A teenager who came out into a welcoming family. A brief, teary hug, because I hadn’t instinctively known (“God, Mum, your gaydar is crap”), and laughter at the clues I’d missed (“All that watching Eurovision together, Mum – did you still not guess?”). It wasn’t that I didn’t think any of my kids might be gay: just that I was still being a mum and not realising they’d stopped being kids.

Back in 2007 I wrote a song called “A-Z”, about gay teens being bullied at school, a kind of retelling of Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy”, which I’d always adored. But then my own teen wasn’t bullied at school, and was happily out there, and everyone was cool, and I thought, “This is fantastic. What a time to be alive.” A crowd of them – gay, straight, bi – went off to Pride, wrapped in flags and with rainbows painted on their faces, and we took photos and celebrated, and again I thought, “What a time to be alive. Hurrah for Now.”

But then Orlando. Oh God, Orlando, which hit me smack in the face, left me shattered and weeping, feeling stupid for not remembering that there were still people out there who might want to harm my beautiful, clever, funny, science-loving, Ru Paul-loving child. Had we been living in a dream? Were we wrong to do so? We’d just been enjoying the good news, that’s all. The increasing freedom and equal rights. The taking of simple things for granted, like being able to marry and have kids. Just ordinariness – nothing anyone should have to feel grateful for.

How we can both know and not know things. How our longing for change lulls us into believing change has come. Of course I knew there was still a way to go. But there’s knowing and not knowing. There’s knowing something cerebrally, and knowing it viscerally. Love makes you strong and it makes you vulnerable. The people you love are the gap in your armour where the blade gets in, and Orlando was quite some blade.

“Four dead in Ohio,” sang Neil Young, in a plaintive lament for the students killed at Kent State University back in 1970. And the tune keeps coming into my head, with different words. Fifty dead in Orlando. Those text messages sent from the bathroom at the Pulse nightclub, what was it one of them said? “Mommy . . . Trapp in bathroom . . . I’m gonna die.” Mommy. That’s where the blade got in. And I wave my child – 18 now, an adult, but always my child – off to Pride for the third time, but in a different mood this year. Alert. Steely.

I’m reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, a book about same-sex marriage, non-binary gender identity, family, motherhood and, above all, love, and I come across this line: “Sometimes one has to know something many times over. Sometimes one forgets, and then remembers. And then forgets, and then remembers. And then forgets again.” I promise not to forget again.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 30 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit lies