NAG AGM - 29th October 2009: The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

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The guest speaker at NAG's 2009 Annual General Meeting was Frank Boulton, Chair of Medact - a global charity which speaks out for countless people across the globe whose health, wellbeing and access to proper health care are severely compromised by the effects of war, poverty and environmental damage. Medact is the UK affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) , winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for its work in mobilizing the influence of the medical profession against the threat of nuclear weapons.

Frank spoke about Medact's work as a sponsor of ICAN - the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. ICAN is demanding an end to nuclear weapons through a Nuclear Weapons Convention which will make nuclear weapons illegal, banning their development, possession, use and threat of use. The International Court of Justice has issued an advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons which suggests that in most circumstances it would be illegal to use nuclear weapons, but to date there is no treaty enshrining this principle into international law.

Although good progress was made on disarmament following the end of the Cold War, there are still around 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and progress at eliminating these has stalled in recent years. The 2010 Review Conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty provides a major opportunity to make progress towards developing a Nuclear Weapons Convention to outlaw these weapons.

Although it has not ruled out supporting a Nuclear Weapons Convention the UK government, as a nuclear weapons state, is reluctant to promote such an agreement and has repeatedly stated that it does not see introduction of a Nuclear Weapons Convention as a priority.

Frank then spoke about AWE's work at Aldermaston, using the recently published off-site emergency arrangements for AWE as an illustration. The emergency plan highlights the difference in viewpoint between government institutions and independent organisations such as NAG and Medact on issues relating to nuclear weapons. The plan gives the impression that an emergency involving AWE Aldermaston would be efficiently dealt with and managed locally by the police and local councils. The public would be told to adopt simple precautions to protect themselves from radiation such as staying inside, blowing the nose and taking off clothes and placing them in a bag outside to remove any contamination, and then taking a shower. In fact, a careful reading of the plan shows that the impact of a release of radiation would be massive, causing disruption at a regional level and lasting for weeks.

Although the government is committed to continuing work on nuclear warheads at AWE, the establishment also carries out valuable work on verification, and would play a crucial role in future under any Nuclear Weapons Convention in decommissioning the UK's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Groups like NAG play an invaluable role at the local level in campaigning to make this happen.

You can download a copy of Frank Boulton's presentation at the AGM here: