Four bishops have confirmed that they will be amongst the protestors at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Aldermaston, Berkshire next week. Hundreds of people of many faiths and of none are preparing to blockade the site on Monday 15 February.
Protestors aim both to disrupt the work of the weapons establishment and to send a message about the public opposition to the government’s commitment to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system, at the same time as the world prepares for a global nuclear non-proliferation conference in May.
Three Church of England bishops will be present – Peter Price (Bath and Wells), Stephen Cottrell (Reading) and Mike Hill (Bristol). They will be joined by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood, Thomas McMahon.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) says that blockading the Aldermaston site is “an effective way of disrupting the ongoing work carried out there of building facilities for, and doing research into, the next generation of Trident warheads, Britain’s weapons of mass destruction”.
Groups involved in the action include CND, Christian CND, Trident Ploughshares and the Aldermaston Women’s Peace Campaign.
Protests are planned at each of the seven gates to the site. Faith groups plan to gather at the Tadley Gate, where events will include a multifaith liturgy as the blockade goes on.
In a briefing for people wishing to take part, CND explain that the blockade “allows everyone to get involved at a level with which they feel comfortable”.
They explain that, “Involvement can range from their simple but visible presence at the gates to trying to communicate with workers, to directly impeding access to the illegal and immoral work at AWE Aldermaston by blockading the gates”.
Campaigners have adopted strict nonviolence guidelines for the event, which involve treating all those people they encounter with respect and which rule out physical and verbal abuse and the use of alcohol.
“This is the biggest blockade of Aldermaston in years,” explained Brian Larkin of Trident Ploughshares. He said it comes “at a time when even major political parties are questioning the logic of spending up to £97 billion on useless weapons. It demonstrates the depth and breadth of determined civil society opposition to Trident and its planned replacement”.
The cabinet is reported to be split on the Prime Minister’s policy of renewing Trident, which research has suggested could cost nearly five times as much as the £20 billion originally estimated.
Christian denominations including the Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and the United Reformed Church, have condemned Trident renewal.
“In May, world governments will meet to review the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” explained Trident Ploughshares activist, Angie Zelter , “But this programme of modernisation of UK nuclear weapons violates the treaty and could lead to a disastrous failure of the Review Conference”.
Zelter, who will travel to the blockade from Wales, added, “Over forty years ago, when it signed up to the treaty, the UK made a deal to negotiate multilateral nuclear disarmament in exchange for states without nuclear weapons agreeing not to obtain them. Not only have we failed to keep that promise but now we are preparing to build a new generation of nuclear weapons.”
Events will include an all-night vigil before the blockade begins at 7.00am on 15 February. The multifaith liturgy will begin at 11.00am.