|Allison Pink (9) delivering the mock plutonium cube to 10 Downing Street in 1975|
Kit Pedler was anti-nuclear power as his co-authored second novel Brainrack demonstrated. The major problem, then, as now, was not just the disposal of waste radioactive elements or the disastrous result of an accident but the deadly end product of some nuclear waste falling into the hands of what we are pleased to call terrorists and being turned into bombs.
In 1977, plans were afoot to build a thermal-oxide reprocessing plant (nicknamed THORP) at the controversial nuclear facility at Windscale (now back to its original name of Sellafield).
According to Tony Benn's contemporary diaries, as the Minister for Energy at the time, he was no great fan of nuclear power nor agreed with the 'mad dash for the fast breeder' programme. The military had an operation there, where they stored spent fuel elements from nuclear powered submarines and processed the plutonium that's needed for the country's hydrogen bombs. This was a minister who actually attended a Friends of the Earth rally in April that year against nuclear power, albeit as an observer. He also knew that Windscale, the scene of a disaster in the 1950s, was still unsafe. This may have been the same demonstration in which Kit Pedler and a Professor Tom Kibble attended. A mock plutonium cube was delivered to 10 Downing Street along with a petition with 9000 signatures. 'A cube of plutonium this size, according to the organisers - an off-shoot of the Conservation Society - would be sufficient to wipe out the entire UK population,' reported the New Scientist.
An inquiry headed by Justice Parker was set up into the proposed plant with British Nuclear Fuels defending, and the Society for Environmental Improvement on the other. Among the last witnesses seen were Dr Charles Wakstein, Edward Goldsmith and our own Dr. Kit Pedler, all three described by the New Scientist in their 20th of October issue as 'disciples...of disaster, and draughtsmen of its dynamics.' It was not plain sailing for the three of them. First of all, Wakstein presented a badly projected film submission, detailing the horrors of radioactivity, which featured a critic who made some controversial criticisms of the inquiry a few days earlier, Parker rejected the film, Caging The Dragon. In his report, according to The Ecologist magazine, 'he turns film critic and castigates the film for misrepresenting an accident at Windscale, because it does not record the real thing, using instead clips of a flare stack at a coke works to illustrate the 1957 fire, and pictures from a medical journal to portray a radiation victim. Does he suggest that the fire at Windscale was less violent, or that radiation does not inflict horrific bums? '
The New Scientist made the events sound like a rather average third season episode of Doomwatch itself! Then when it came to Pedler's turn, according to the same magazine: 'Pedler, as lugubrious as ever, was given short shrift of Guinness-record proportions. He had been ready to give evidence to show how easy it was for amateurs to construct an explosive nuclear device using published material and simple workshop technologies. Justice Parker thought it better not to re-publish what, essentially, had already appeared in a Pedler-Daily Express exercise and ruled that the submission be entered only as a document. The author of 'Doomwatch' was in and out of the witness chair in under three minutes.'
In the end, Parker decided that the proposed extension of the reprocessing plant would not impact on future development of nuclear policy. The Ecologist magazine in 1978 reproduced a pamphlet criticising the report which suggested that a fast breed reactor at Windscale would not increase the nuclear arms race. Perfidious logic, it was described as. 'Dr. Kit Pedler has indicated that sufficient unclassified information is available in the archives for any motivated physicist to make a crude nuclear bomb. Eminent physicists who have worked with atomic devices find the plans highly credible. Does anybody doubt that today's terrorists will hesitate to use such a device if they get possession of it?'
A few years later, with the Conservatives in charge both in Britain and America, both fighting 'the evil empire,' the arms race soared....
The recent Wikileaks showed the concern the Americans have with Pakistan's fissionable material falling into the wrong hands. What with students protesting against tuition fees in London and elsewhere in the UK this week, let's hope no one gets any ideas from the synopsis reproduced on this site...
With thanks to Michael Seely