Weapons of mass demonstration

It is 50 years since the first Aldermaston march. On Monday protesters will gather once again in opp

On Easter Monday, CND is going back to Aldermaston. Yes, we intend to surround the Atomic Weapons Establishment that builds Britain’s nuclear weapons – and we will celebrate 50 years of courageous, creative and tenacious opposition to nukes. But if you think this is just a blast from the past, that this is just about the 50th anniversary, you are very much mistaken.

Aldermaston is not something that belongs to the past – it produces Britain’s weapons of mass destruction today, and will continue to do so into the future, unless we are effective in our opposition.

In 2002, the private consortium that manages AWE Aldermaston published a plan to redevelop and build new facilities at the site. The building work is now well advanced, and the developments are on the scale of Heathrow’s Terminal Five.

They are estimated to cost in the region of £5 billion and they will also result in the employment of more than 1,000 additional staff. Recruitment has already begun. But what are these developments for? We believe that they are for the development and production of a new generation of nuclear weapons. It is just not credible that the scale of redevelopment is solely to preserve the existing capabilities of the establishment.

In December 2006, the Government’s White Paper on Trident Replacement - which advocated replacing the submarines for Britain’s nuclear weapons system – stated that a decision on the warheads had not yet been made, but would be made in the lifetime of the next Parliament. Either that’s not true and they have already decided, or they are so certain of the outcome they have gone ahead and upgraded Aldermaston anyway.

If you join us at Aldermaston on Easter Monday, you – like I on a recent visit – will probably be stunned by the sheer size of the buildings that are being constructed at the site. The new facilities will house a range of equipment, which will be used to simulate the effects of nuclear testing – so that new warheads can be developed without actually contravening the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which outlaws nuclear tests.

The equipment includes a new £20 million supercomputer, called Larch. This will give AWE one of the most powerful computer systems in Europe, possibly only exceeded by the supercomputers used in the US for their nuclear weapons development.

The computer simulations provided will be augmented by experimental data provided by other new facilities being built at the site. Crucial amongst these is the housing for the new Orion laser – a thousand times more powerful than the old laser. This will also be used to get a better understanding of the physics behind nuclear explosions and will aid the computer simulations that will be used in the design of the new warheads.

At the moment the government seems to be trying to ride two horses at once. Since Gordon Brown has been Prime Minister, there have been a number of high-level statements stressing the importance of steps towards disarmament by the nuclear-armed states. It has recognised the relationship between the failure to disarm and the increased likelihood of proliferation.

In February, Des Browne announced that Britain would convene a summit of the nuclear weapons states to discuss issues around the decommissioning of nuclear weapons. This is all to the good. But simultaneously the government is pursuing the new system, warheads and all.

How far down the multilateral road does the government intend to go before it will call a halt to Trident replacement? And has it not considered that other states may take Britain’s initiative more seriously as an indication of good faith if it at least temporarily calls a halt to the replacement programme?

What is needed now is an extra injection of courage by the government. The government needs to understand that the sky will not fall in if we call a halt to Trident replacement – indeed, it may ultimately contribute to a significant lessening of global tension; possibly the achievement of the global abolition of nuclear weapons.

After all, the call for this is now coming from such unexpected quarters as Henry Kissinger. No longer can it be painted as a marginal demand – the supposed preserve of the likes of CND.

It is vital that the government gets a strong message on this now. There is more movement on this question in national and international circles than there has been for many years. Now is the time to press home the point: Britain does not want or need nuclear weapons.

Join us at Aldermaston on Easter Monday 24 March at 12 noon to surround the base. Coaches are coming from all over the country. See our website for details.