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Ploughshares in Plymouth

May 15, 2014

Vanguard-model-and-Drakes-Island-e1399846019411A Peace Camp delegate made it to the recent Trident Ploughshares gathering in Plymouth. Hosted by local group Tamarians, attendees spent much time in workshops and meetings, but also took the opportunity to get out and about at the local MoD facility: Devonport.

Trident f’taghn

Devonport is a major Navy site, with a flotilla of surface ships based there, construction and repair facilities, and more significantly to us, a submarine z-berth and dry-dock. At the moment, HMS Vengeance is slumbering in the dry-dock like some Lovecraftian leviathan, whilst its fiendish devotees carry out the arcane processes which will make it ready to awaken once more.

At the moment, operations at Dock 9 include the refuelling of submarines, which process involves pulling old fuel rods out of the boats with a crane and dumping them in a lined pool until someone can think of something better to do with them. Devonport’s corporate overseers are also interested in carrying out decommissioning of submarines there, such as those currently rotting in the Rosyth dockyard. This sounds great until you look around the place and realise that it means juggling serious nuclear waste within a stone’s throw of many homes and schools, and there isn’t a proper waste disposal site available anyway.

Local group CANSAR (Community Awareness Nuclear Storage And Radiation) surveyed five streets in close proximity to Dock 9 and found seventeen times the national average incidence of cancer. Understandably, they are concerned about the prospect of the Ministry carrying out more, and more dangerous, work at the base. Of course, there are sophisticated statistical arguments which completely deny the significance of all such clusters, and causation is nearly as difficult to prove as the non-existence of God… Nevertheless, we won’t be going to church anytime soon, nor hanging laundry outdoors downwind of Devonport.Drakes

Risk assessment

Having heard about how awful the place was, we of course went down to have a look at it, and took some banners. Devonport is an odd place, surrounded by homes and traversed by both a railway bridge and the road to a separate, civilian, ferry terminal. Despite being an advertised nuclear site, the security there appears to be as bad as that of Faslane. Although the old part of the base (at the Drake Gate) is patrolled by military, there’s nothing but accommodation there so who cares. Dock 9 is somewhere behind the suspiciously wide-open and lightly-guarded Camel’s Head gate at the Western end of the base.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the time for amazing direct action, but some good stories were told. Our favourite was the attempt to literally jam the communications of a submarine, though tales of successfully meeting the challenge of blockading such a massive, multiple-entry facility were also inspirational.

Garlic and olive oil, apparently

The last day of the meet saw TPers assemble at the city centre police station. We weren’t waiting for detained comrades this time, but instead carrying out the ‘Report a Crime’ activity promoted by ActionAWE. This consists of presenting at a police station to report the criminal activities of the Ministry of Defence and its contractors in maintaining and deploying nuclear weapons. One can do this at any police station, and it’s an interesting exercise, albeit unsuitable for anyone with outstanding warrants or unwilling to tell the police their address and phone number (staff at the Plymouth station were cheekily asking for birthdates as well, clearly to facilitate a criminal record check).

Up to twenty reported war crimes to the counter staff, and this should technically lead to a follow-up investigation by police, although we’re not holding our breath. At least next time any of us is in the dock they won’t be able to say that we didn’t try other means.

Before, during, and after our application to have the State investigate and prosecute itself, we distributed leaflets to passers-by, some attached to leeks (do you see?) along with a recipe for turning them into soup. This went down pretty well, perhaps surprisingly for a Navy city. All in all, it was a successful and productive weekend, and we look forward to more interaction with Ploughshares in the future. Thanks to the locals, and their Friends, for having us.

Pictures stolen from Ploughares’ website.

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