Nuclear weapons and me

Remembering Hiroshima – the dead, the survivors and the blight that nuclear weapons have brought on this world – on this day, 75 years after the first nuclear weapon was used against a civilian population. A weapon, remember, that was developed because of a fear that Nazi Germany would develop it.

Joseph Rotblat, a scientist who I admire so much, left the project to develop a nuclear weapon when it became clear to him that Germany would not be able to develop it. Few if any others on the project possessed his moral vision and authority.

In 1981, Professor Mike Pentz, who led the formation of the OU (Open University) science department, founded Scientists Against Nuclear Arms (SANA). I was at Bristol Uni. doing a Post Doc at the time.

I went to hear him speak. What an amazing and inspiring speaker he was; I signed up on the spot. The cruise missile crisis was in full swing.

Within months it seemed I was on the National Coordinating Committee of SANA.

It kind of killed my passion for science, something I’d been in love with since a young boy. I had a lab when I was just 12.

I left my research in computational quantum chemistry.

I went into the world of industry and in my spare time spent a lot of the 80s working in the background helping to develop tools for the anti-nuclear movement.

This included a Program to assess the impact of nuclear attacks, which I managed to squeeze onto an Amstrad PCW 8256 – with no hard disc and a memory of just 256K! Or 0.25Mb, or 0.00025Gb.

This program was given free to local authorities. 

During this time I had also married the beautiful nurse who I met in Bristol, and we brought up two girls. So Bristol always has a special resonance for me, on so many levels.

Eventually I was pretty burnt out and stepped back from nuclear activism – after all, we got rid of cruise. Job done, right?

If only.

SANA evolved into SGR, Scientists for Global Responsibility, a great organisation that is still going strong and doing good work.

Nevertheless, it might explain why it took a while for me to realise there was another great elephant in the room – global warming. 

This time, it was Naomi Klein, and specifically her book This Changes Everything which was the kick up *** I needed. I have a signed copy from when she spoke at the Cheltenham Book Festival.

Now I spend a lot of my time in retirement on climate change matters, but focusing my efforts on local community action.

I never lost my love for science, even if things turned out different to my boyhood dreams.

But damn you, nuclear weapons, and damn you fossil fuels, and you, the same old, same old vested-interest apologists.


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2 responses to “Nuclear weapons and me

  1. Senan Clifford

    Yes, well said, and a lovely piece – full of heart; thank you Richard 🙂


  2. Thank you Richard –
    Such as ever was ‘Empire’ – and the origins of many other dystopian technologies, and their inevitable consequences (Wittfogel).
    Unfortunately, those “vested-interest apologists” also still inform both the wider public agenda and that of our other sciences; creating a “wicked echo-chamber” derived from, and supportive of … those vested interests.
    It is increasingly apparent speaking with academics in appropriate fields – that much of our science, brilliant though most of it is; suffers the effects of decades of corporate interests & government policies skewing universities from studying other more appropriate subjects, and is thus as my contacts disclose, the wrong science.
    The globalist (as opposed to internationalist) process has also gravely reinforced these maybe terminal problems; certainly for many suffering the horrors of intense climate effects, right now, thus deprived of straightforward solutions; as we also are in the UK.
    It was recognition of such diabolical ‘statist’ processes that largely informed Schumacher’s ‘Small is Beautiful’ – so sad that his close Stroud mentor, the Rev John Papworth died this summer buried now in Slad without seeing proper recognition for all this profound wisdom.
    We also lost Ossie Goring this past month; another practitioner par excellence of climate positive technologies; all deployed against government policies and the prevailing academic ‘knowledges’ and significantly, still barely understood even locally. His water mill (long buttressed with other renewables) demonstrating practicable testimony to the absolute economic & ecologic abundance that arises from such wisdom (and innate climate neutrality) – thus creating employment for 75 persons; producing a product whose full deployment could negate the need for 30% of UK power stations… But as it became painfully obvious watching Ossie’s progress (and despair) over 4 decades – the best solutions to climate change are also the best for creating socially equitable wealth … and that does not suit the “vested interests”.


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