In the recent grand debate about whether or not Britain should replace its nuclear deterrent, the Trident missile, and the submarines that fire them, my first thoughts were not with the stability of world peace or the potential environmental impact of nuclear weapons, nor our position in the league of powerful nations or Trident’s contribution to the safety of the country. My first thoughts were with Barrow-in-Furness and Faslane.
If you don’t know, Barrow-in-Furness is a small town in Cumbria dominated by the massive BAE SYSTEMS shipyard, which in itself is almost entirely reliant on the construction of nuclear submarines for the UK military. Faslane is a navy base on the West coast of Scotland which stores and maintains the subs. Both these isolated communities have been flash points for anti-nuke campaigners. A permanent peace camp has existed at Faslane since 1982, while the shipyard in Barrow has been infiltrated and vandalised on several occasions.
My first thought was with these places because my home town, Birkenhead, was also once heavily reliant on submarines. It was home of the Cammell Laird shipyard, the only one apart from Barrow allowed to build nuke subs. When the cold war finished at the end of the 1980s and it was decided that we didn’t need as many subs, the firm, which had once employed 20,000 people, closed down, devastating the area. Today those jobs have not been replaced, there is little employment opportunities beyond supermarkets and the area is one of the most deprived in the UK, attracting all the social problems that comes with.
If our nuclear missile firing submarine capability was removed it would almost certainly lead to the closure of Barrow and Faslane and untold damage to more communities. Consequently, the CND do not find much support in these places.
No doubt many of the people who build these boats, forced to work next to nuclear reactors and live with the knowledge of the damage that these vessels could do to the world are sometimes troubled, however this is no doubt overcome by the far more immediate equation of nuclear submarines = good jobs = money = food on the table.
And it isn’t just subs. There are the nuclear energy sites of Sellafield and Sizewell, the oil refineries at Grangemouth and Ellesmere Port, the chemical works of Runcorn and Teesside. All places where people are forced to live in dangerous often polluted and usually isolated locations. Places were people have to watch their children play in the shadow of those ominous domes and towers, but where they also rely financially on them to pay the mortgage and get the Christmas presents and pay university fees.
To close these places may benefit the environment but would destroy the immediate communities that rely on them. People who are often forgotten or used as political footballs, caught between factors out of there control, chained to things that represent both a lifeline and a death threat, just trying to exist.
Maybe worrying about unemployment and social deprivation is a little small-minded when we are talking about the fate of the entire world. But some consideration should be given to the small communities that exist by these facilities, they may not want them in the world, let alone by their homes, but they remain reliant on them.
So next time you’re arguing for profit and security or peace and the planet, spare a thought for the Barrows and Birkenheads of the world.
By Kenn Taylor