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AWE Burghfield – block and walk

June 12, 2014

Peace Camp’s 32nd anniversary week started well with a vehicle blockade of Burghfield AWE on Monday morning. Current and former campers were present and locked-on, although in their capacity as members of Trident Ploughshares, who organised the action in support of the ongoing Action AWE campaign.

Burghfield is a critical site in the UK’s current and future nuclear plans. It’s the assembly plant for Trident warheads, and services them as required, sending convoys of nuclear material and completed warheads from the south-east of England to the west coast of Scotland, along either the M6 or M1/A1 and putting the entire population at risk of a military nuclear accident. Ongoing work at the base is ostensibly replacing the 1950s ‘gravel gerty’ assembly units, lambasted on health and safety grounds for a catalogue of failings, with a safer modern facility. What’s actually happening is the re-tooling of the equipment for use in designing and manufacturing the Trident Successor. Amazingly, this kind of work, determinedly happening now for the purpose of continued nuclear deployment, is counted as a ‘saving’ in the Government’s nuclear program, as the safety monitors asked them to do it ages ago in order that Reading not be obliterated by sheer neglect. The people in charge of this have called it ‘Project Mensa’, perhaps ironically.

Lots of plotting and some hard graft on the part of Ploughshares’ engineers paid off well. Anxiety on our approach – vehicle lock-ons are expensive in time and money terms and easy to stop if anticipated – proved to be ill-founded, as we once again caught the forces of darkness on the hop and deployed three automotive obstructions within four minutes of each other, with paramilitary precision. Banners, cones, and support team members in hi-vis indicated no pasaran to the would-be Bomb-builders.

Police presence was light, indicating that our arrival was unexpected, and remained so for the duration. Clearly lessons were learned from the debacle of last September’s Big Blockade, when a disproportionate police deployment had arguably caused more disruption than the lock-ons. Having handled a number of blockades since, the MoD-Plod managed to deal with their truncated traffic in an efficient and effective way, stacking vehicles in adjacent sports grounds and the access road at the south-east of the base. Note to future blockaders: do something about this.

Ministry police were soon supplemented by Thames Valley coppers and the local fire brigade. The latter were called in to assess whether gas bottles used as part of a sophisticated lock-on contained any residual propane. Having observed that the bottles had been cut in half and had plastic tubes running through them, the firemen were able to reassure panicking proliferationists that the only gas around was tritium. Meanwhile Thames Valley police were strategically assigned to each blockade to preclude the hourly comfort breaks the arrestables had hitherto enjoyed – literally, a pish detail.

Cursory assessments of all of the lock-ons were made but the plan was obviously to open the eastern Construction Gate (so-called because of Project Mensa, supplied via this route) and shepherd all traffic through it, possibly whilst dealing with the other blockades or waiting for them to falter. A cutting crew therefore set about the eastern blockade, releasing and arresting two and achieving a lane of traffic through the gate. On seeing this, and suffering physical discomfort due to the hot sun and restrictions of the lock-ons, the remaining blockaders negotiated their release so successfully that they retained the converted cars they’d used to confound the cod-constabulary of commercialised conflict…

That’s right – having stopped traffic to one of the UK’s most secure military sites for half a day, including a kibosh on deliveries which must have cost a small fortune, we got to up and leave in our modified motors with no arrests subsequent to the first two. That means one less count of bail and both means and opportunity to do it again. Could anyone happy to drive hot vehicles into hot water by the end of the month, please get in touch.

Thanks again to all participants, including but not exclusive to: the planners, who colluded in conception; the engineers, who wrought safe mayhem from concrete and steel; the drivers, who delivered the goods; the support teams, whose determined defiance ensured a constant friendly presence in hostile circumstance; the blockaders, for whom disobedience is a duty; and our hosts, whose understanding does well to exceed their hospitality. Such solidarity bodes badly for those silly enough to be on the other side.

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