The Sellafield MOX Blockade

On 20th December 80 Irish activists delayed workers entering Sellafield on the opening day of the new MOX nuclear reprocessing plant. This certainly rattled a few cages and saw the British police acting in a heavy-handed manner once again. I spoke with some members of Gluaiseacht who were at a second demonstration in February, attended, by 200 which also blockaded Sellafield.

Tim Hourigan: "Despite five weeks prior notice of the protest the police responded completely inadequately. The specially trained SGI unit was not on duty. Instead of SGI we got a bunch of traffic cops from Workington police station. They became frustrated, pulled at protestors who were locked together, causing injury to wrists and hands. A female journalist told me that she was struck by a constable."

Barry O'Donavan: "....UKAEA constabulary and .... Police Support Units (PSU)....wore army combat boots, navy combat pants and police high-vis jackets, they wore no divisional insignia and very few wore numbers. These officers showed little interest in preventing cars from crashing through the protest lines.... On one occasion a protestor was carried over half a mile on a car bonnet, the only officer on the scene having left on his bike some minutes earlier. UKAEA police later expressed that this was not a concern to them. They proceeded to push and drag protestors out of the way of any car which attempted to pass through the protest line, going so far as to throw one woman, Esta Carter, into a ditch. I was shouldered in the back and spun toward the edge of the road twice by a member of the PSU.

But as to the positive effects of the direct action, Tim Hourigan says "First off, it's helping to highlight the issue. More people are thinking and talking about Sellafield. When we started collecting signatures for petitions last November, a lot of people had no idea where Sellafield was, what it did and some even thought it had closed years ago. It's now topical again. The opening of the MOX plant made the news, but the series of protests after it is showing people that there IS real opposition to Sellafield and it should not be ignored. Secondly, it is putting pressure on BNFL. They're no push-over so it will have to be sustained pressure, but they are already fighting to keep a dying industry alive, and they'd rather not have to worry about dealing with us. .... When the news shows 200 people taking a long trip (15 hrs one way) to protest at Sellafield, they start asking what the government is doing about it, and if that is enough."

The fact is that direct action is having an effect, and has gotten under the British Government's skin. And as we certainly cannot rely on our government for anything, other than to abuse their power and make empty promises, it is the most effective weapon at our disposal.

Tim Hourigan thinks "the nuclear industry is under the illusion that if they can prop the thing up for long enough that they can stage a comeback." But with continuous pressure and a refusal to be shaken by scare tactics Sellafield and the Mox plant will be denied this chance and finally be shut down.

Cliona Murphy

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This edition is No69 published in March 2002

Workers Solidarty 69 cover