What makes someone take on the anti-nuclear cause? It is a dry, and largely technical subject without compelling images or obvious victims, and is guaranteed to get you ignored by the press almost 100 per cent of the time.
Even when the 2011 Fukishima-Daiichi nuclear disaster hit in Japan, the myopic British government — and others around the world, including even Japan — continued to promote nuclear expansion.
This determined and dangerous pursuit of economically failing and environmentally dangerous nuclear energy — despite all evidence that it can be replaced by renewable energy and energy efficiency without increasing fossil fuel use — should be enough to send frustrated anti-nuclear activists to an early grave.
In the case of Janine Allis-Smith and Martin Forwood, however, the heart of the aptly named CORE — Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment — the continued obsession with nuclear energy, and the continued although fading presence of the dirtiest end of the nuclear fuel chain, the Sellafield reprocessing facility, right in the their back hard, represent an irresistible red flag.
The Nuclear-Free Future Award
This month their commitment to a safer, cleaner, greener environment was rewarded when it was announced they would receive the 2017 Nuclear-Free Future Award in the category of Education, a prize that carries a $10,000 cheque, a rare and much needed boon in a movement largely deprived of consistent funding.
When Martin and Janine, who reside in a bucolic Cumbria cottage replete with dogs, cats and pet sheep, first heard of the award, the humble couple were lost for words. A short email from Janine apologized for the lack of a lengthy acknowledgement. A glass (or two) of wine later and the news began to sink in.
“We are honoured to have received NFFA’s Education Award for 2017 and humbled to be joining the list of diverse and distinguished winners of the past,” Forwood said.
“Since the 1980s, when Sellafield was preparing to double its commercial reprocessing activities, we have focused not only on acting locally but also being the ‘eyes and ears’ for the many interested parties world-wide on Sellafield and its many detriments which include site accidents, environmental contamination, health risks, plutonium stockpiles and nuclear transports.
“With decades of uniquely difficult decommissioning yet to come, and with plans for new-build at Moorside, we still have much to do and will face the challenges with the same determination that has seen us through the many highs and lows experienced over the last thirty years in our campaign against an industry we believe still has much to answer for.”
The Nuclear-Free Future Award (NFFA) has, since 1998, recognized unsung heroes whose efforts and struggles, sometimes at risk to their own lives, and often unsupported financially, deserve international recognition and acclamation.
The NFFA gives three cash awards each year in the categories of Resistance, Education, and Solutions, for work to end the Atomic Age through the elimination of both the military and civilian applications of nuclear materials. The 2017 ceremony will take place on September 15, in Basel, Switzerland.
Along with Forwood and Allis-Smith the 2017 winners include Almoustapha Alhacen, Niger, for Resistance, and Hiromichi Umebayashi, Japan, for Solutions. Jochen Stay of Germany and the Swiss anti-nuclear movement will receive the non-monetary Special Recognition awards.
Tenacious partners on the anti-nuclear battlefield
Martin and Janine, partners in life as well as activism, embody the longstanding and tenacious anti-nuclear fight in Cumbria, the most nuclear county in the United Kingdom. Without their watchdog vigilance and their compelling educational advocacy, far less would be known about the dangers posed by the British nuclear industry, and particularly by the Sellafield reprocessing and nuclear waste site.
Martin and Janine have been at the heart of the struggle against the Sellafield operations since the mid-1980s. They have exposed the the company’s clandestine activities, especially emissions of radioactive wastes into the environment.
For Janine, formerly from the Netherlands, this hit home especially hard when her own son was diagnosed with leukemia in 1983. He survived, but as Janine began to look into the issue, she found far too many other instances of childhood leukemias among children living close to Sellafield, many fatal.
The pair began to suspect that radioactive discharges from Sellafield were contaminating local beaches and tide pools where children loved to play. And, as Allis-Smith, recounted, “it was not just leukemia, but other cancers. Some were stillborn, while other suffered unexplained deaths at a very young age.”
This launched Janine and Martin on a relentless campaign to expose the on-going violations at the Sellafield site where radioactive discharges have made the Irish Sea one of the most radioactively contaminated bodies of water in the world.
Just this year, CORE released a damning report which showed how, “during the 1995-2013 period, the radioactive discharges to the marine environment from Sellafield’s reprocessing facilities B205 (magnox) and THORP (oxide) have dominated those from all other UK facilities and are recognized as being the major contributor to the levels of radioactive substances recorded in the Irish Sea and wider oceans.”
The plight of children with leukemia
Janine and Martin became the perfect team at explaining the dangers of reprocessing at Sellafield. Both were new to the issue when they began. But they quickly educated themselves, then others.
Martin’s presentation perfected the art of explaining the complex and technical technology of reprocessing in easily understandable lay terms. Allis-Smith moved audiences as she vividly described the plight of her son and the other children. Politicians, the media, and the public at large were forced to take
Over the years, the pair have collected numerous mud samples from local beaches and estuaries that have been analyzed for radioactive contamination, confirming their suspicions.
Today, if you need to know anything about the Sellafield nuclear complex, about reprocessing and its emissions into air and water, or the hazards of shipping plutonium from Sellafield around the world — flotillas that Forwood, a former merchant seaman himself has vigorously opposed — you turn to Janine and Martin and CORE.
However, their expertise did not happen overnight. It has built over the decades. Martin’s deep knowledge and his fearless commitment were instrumental in uncovering scandals and illegal activities at the site.
Martin and Janine fought the THORP reprocessing plant, due to close permanently next year; the rash decision to develop a MOX fuel manufacturing plant, which closed after just 10 years of operation; and the global transport of radioactive materials.
In 1990 Martin gave his first guided “Alternative Sellafield Tour”, highlighting the spots where the reprocessing plant endangers the environment.
More recently, they were part of a successful effort to prevent the Nuclear Waste Agency NIREX from building a subterranean depository for British and international nuclear waste at the edge of the Lake District National Park.
Currently, they are at the forefront of the fight to block three new nuclear power plants planned for Moorside adjacent to Sellafield. Their landmark 2015 report, “Moorside Build & Job Projections – All Spin and No Substance,” has proven an essential tool for the broad opposition to this deadly plan, one that now teeters on the brink of collapse.
Without major financial and human resources and without regard to personal risks and disadvantages, Martin and Janine have successfully confronted the British nuclear industry as well as decommissioning and waste authorities.
Together they are researchers and whistleblowers, organizers of local meetings and international conferences and resourceful activists.
And they are not without a sense of drama either. In 2005, Martin made and delivered a radioactive ‘Pizza Cumbriana’ as a protest to the Italian Embassy in London —Italy was shipping radioactive waste to Sellafield for reprocessing at the time.
The box was marked “Best before 26005”, a reference to plutonium 239, which has a half-life of 24,400 years. Seized at the time by the Environment Agency, it was stored, then buried eight years later at the Drigg nuclear waste dump in Cumbria.
But Martin and Janine remain undeterred. They network both locally and internationally with grassroots initiatives as well as major NGOs. Several times, it was CORE who provided the essential inside information for campaigns that have dealt major blows to the nuclear industry.
However, these days it is hard to catch Martin and Janine together outside of their home town. Their pastoral idyll includes sheep and other animals which must be tended to daily. If one leaves on a road trip, the other often stays behind.
The pair are an impressive example of effective teamwork in activism and are the key to CORE’s success in fighting the Sellafield nuclear complex and alerting the world to the dangers of nuclear energy.
Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear, a USA based environmental advocacy group.