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Rolling blockade at Burghfield nuclear weapons factory

Theo Simon writes from one of the longest continuous blockades of a nuclear weapons base

June 16, 2016
5 min read

blockadeWhen I joined the anti-nuclear blockaders lying with arms in lock-on tubes across a Berkshire lane, none of us imagined how the day would play out. After a leisurely start that caught the waiting cops off guard, we’d arrived at the Burghfield nuclear weapons factory near Reading to kick-off a rolling month of blockades the Trident Ploughshares campaign had planned for June.

After a few hours successfully blocking access to the MOD site, rather than doing what the cops expected and leaving, we consolidated our forces and stayed through the night with our lock-ons extended across the gate. Reinforced with new arrivals, we slept through to a second day, and began the longest continuous blockade of a nuclear weapons base ever, with construction traffic turned back and building-work for the warhead factory set back by a week as a result! And there were only 20 of us.

Back in the day when nuclear warheads were the only form of mass destruction on the horizon, terror of nuclear war with Russia mobilized thousands, and protests at nuclear bases could draw upon hundreds of people. Today a new generation of humanity faces many apparently more imminent threats – so many, played out in so many variations on our screens, we’re understandably confused and numb to the very real peril we are in. The most powerful popular argument against Trident seems to be how much it will cost – not the unspeakable obscenity of preparing for mass murder, or the urgent need for disarmament if we are to avoid extinction this century.

That cost is important of course. It’s not just counted in hospitals, homes and cuts to essential services. It’s not just a commitment to endless growth to feed the bottomless maw of the nuclear industry. It’s also in the carbon footprint those billions represent, and the burden of radioactive waste management it lays on subsequent generations. And yet, for all that commitment of our collective wealth, in the face of warming ‘weathers of mass disruption’ which are now unfolding across the planet, what ‘security’ does a renewed nuclear arsenal offer us? All that Trident can do is divert resources from meaningful action, while adding to the burden of hazards we face in our struggle to find a way through.

The truth which every Burghfield blockader I spoke to understands, is that if we are not working all-out now for global co-operation and de-carbonization, we will be sliding into deeper, more terrible conflicts tomorrow. As millions of people are forced to relocate from collapsing environments and rising seas, food and other resources will need to be equitably shared, or else the ensuing wars will be so desperate that a nuclear exchange becomes more likely than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Even before it has been agreed by parliament, the £200 billion renewal of the Trident nuclear missile system is under way, and the U.K. government is effectively tearing up the 1968 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. Breaking its treaty commitment to proceed ‘in good faith’ towards nuclear disarmament gives the green light for a new nuclear arms race and breaks the trust of non-nuclear nations, at a time when that trust most needs to be built. And just like those who voted for ‘shock and awe’ in Iraq, MPs who rubber stamp the renewal of our WMDs are colluding in the preparation of such an unimaginable crime against humanity that they render the rule of international law a meaningless sham. The doctrine of deterrence was debatable at the best of times. In worsening times, the prospect of trigger-happy, posturing, privileged patriots resorting either to ‘first use’ or else to pointless and cruel retaliation, makes the possession of a nuclear-ready fleet no more than an expensive and unlawful suicide note.

Amoung the young blockaders in that first week at Burghfield were fresh faces from recent Reclaim The Power mass climate actions, from the Plane Stupid Heathrow protest, and even from the French Nuit Debout movement. With a flow of similar support throughout the month, the rolling June blockade of Burghfield’s construction gate has the potential to morph into a peace camp – and more. Perhaps this summer we’ll see an emerging culture of solidarity, recognizing that there are no ‘single issues’ anymore. Climate change changes everything.

Across the Burghfield construction gate somebody’s painted a long red line. It’s the same red line we’re drawing against fossil fuels, wealth inequality, pollution and Trident renewal – It’s the line we cannot afford to cross if we want to see out the century. If you can get down to Burghfield for a shift, who knows how long that line might stretch?

Theo Simon is a musician with Seize The Day and a green campaigner