It appears that it is right and proper for civil servants to conspire to deceive the public over the manifold dangers inherent in the manufacture of nuclear bombs. But to tell the truth? That is quite another thing altogether. Editorial article published in The Ecologist Vol. 10 No. 10, December 1980.
A senior civil servant, Mr Trevor Brown, formerly head of Aldermaston’s chemical division which is responsible for processing the plutonium required for making atom bombs, has been seriously reprimanded by the Ministry of Defence, which apparently means that he is now unlikely ever to be promoted. What is of particular significance is the nature of his “misdemeanour”. He is accused of having stated on a BBC television programme that
“an obsession with secrecy had possibly lowered safety standards at Aldermaston.”
Clearly such a statement cannot be construed as jeopardising our national defence. Mr Brown cannot be accused of treachery. Nor can he be accused of untruthfulness; indeed his thesis has now been vindicated at an official inquiry conducted by Sir Edward Pochin.
What he is, in fact, accused of is: failure to co-operate with his employers in covering up the now established fact that employees at the nuclear establishment are being subjected, during the course of their work, to unacceptably high levels of radiation.
The only object of such a cover-up is to permit the perpetuation of conditions that must ultimately condemn a lot of people to a slow and lingering death from cancer or to the psychological torture of bringing up malformed children. This, most reasonable people would concede, is a more anti-social thing to do than to say, rob a bank and thereby simply deprive a few people of their surplus cash. Yet unlike a bank robbery it is, in effect at least, quite legal.
The law provides no means of preventing the government and industry from concealing information from the public that it requires to survive in the artificial environment which we have created, nor from providing it with misleading or indeed downright false information, which by the way, Mr Brown would undoubtedly have been expected to do had he been Aldermaston’s spokesman on safety matters.
What Mr Brown has been reprimanded for is, in fact, nothing more than his refusal to join a callous and cynical conspiracy to commit what should, unquestionably, be regarded as a serious crime, punishable by particularly long prison sentences for all involved.
If this incident were an isolated one I would not comment on it in the pages of The Ecologist, but of course it is not. In the last decades, the public has been misinformed and indeed deliberately lied to, over and over again, both by industry and by government in order to render acceptable to it activities that may be desirable on short-term and political and economic grounds, but that are highly undesirable on biological, ecological and social grounds and hence that are totally contrary to the medium and long-term interests of the public.
What is more, many of these activities I am quite sure, would never have been accepted by the public if their true effects had not been so systematically and unscrupulously dissimulated. This is undoubtedly the case with the spraying of 93 percent of our crops with synthetic organic pesticides, residues of which are present in just about all the food for sale in our shops.
It is undoubtedly the case with the retreatment of spent fuel at Windscale which is leading to the irreversible contamination of the Irish Sea and of its fish life, with caesium and plutonium and it is also the case with the purposeful contamination of our food by the food-processing industry with known carcinogens such as the coal-based artificial colourants.
The trouble is that if the public does not rapidly become aware of the extent to which it is being misinformed on such critical matters then the economy will have become so totally dependent on the continuation of these highly polluting activities that they will then be virtually unstoppable.
For instance, once our industry has become totally dependent for its electricity on nuclear power, even if an escalating cancer rate were seen to coincide with the increasing emissions of radionuclides from Windscale and with an increase in the number and seriousness of accidents at nuclear installations, the government could but strenuously deny that the correlation between these trends was anything but purely fortuitous.
It is difficult to avoid wondering how the government is going to render acceptable to the public such biologically suicidal enterprises as must be the projected construction and operation of a range of 1,000 megawatt breeder reactors; the large scale “domestication” of micro-organisms by means of genetic engineering, which must inevitably lead to the exposure of human populations to man-made viruses and bacteria, of which they have had no evolutionary experience; or for that matter the development of the socially-suicidal micro electronics industry, which can only cut down employment in the services sector, the only one that has provided jobs in the last ten years, by a conceivable factor of ten.
In order to succeed in doing so, cover-up techniques will have to be considerably refined. The cover-up will have to become a fine art – the literary genre of the last decades of the 20th century as the novel was of the 19th and the epic poem of the Homeric Age. It will also have to take over from molecular biology and virology as the most glamorous field of scientific research so as to attract to it the best brains in the business. It will also need to attract the sort of funds to pay for the armies of researchers, copywriters and sundry other propagandists that the government now spends on such things as national health, education and defence.
Only then will it be remotely possible to render acceptable, to the long suffering public, the Frankenstein-like monsters that our scientists have conjured up in what can only be a futile attempt to rebuild their tarnished image and to resuscitate our collapsing economy.
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