Echoes of A New Tomorrow: Life after Revolution in the Commonwealth of Britain

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Alrighty then, getting about time to put up the next update. Who’s ready to see things start to heat up for dear old Oswald?
 
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Windscale: Crisis in Nuclear Britain

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ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



WINDSCALE: CRISIS IN NUCLEAR BRITAIN

REV. JOHN GROSER
1966



Ten years ago, in May 1956, the British Commonwealth hitched its wagon to the spectre of mass destruction and joined the exclusive ranks of global nuclear powers. The detonation of “White Flash”, the first British A-bomb, on the colonial outpost of Christmas Island far off in the Pacific, fulfilled Chairman Mosley’s wish that the Commonwealth should play a key role in this dark chapter of the Cold War. Britain, after the United States and the Soviet Union, became the third possessor of nuclear weapons, and in so doing secured for itself all accompanying prestige and global influence. It also embarked upon a path towards closing the ‘nuclear gap’: the disparity in nuclear capabilities between even the three nuclear powers. Two years prior to the detonation of White Flash, the United States had proven the obsolescence of atomic weapons through the successful test of warhead of even greater destructive capability: the H-bomb. As a new and terrible age of thermonuclear warfare commenced, Mosley set the sights of British science, technology and industry on keeping up with the cutting edge of nuclear advances. To this end, before White Flash had even faded from the public consciousness, Mosley committed the Commonwealth to the production of a successful thermonuclear weapon as soon as possible. With this commitment, he put Britain on a direct course to the worst crisis in its brief nuclear history: Windscale.


While the story of Britain as a nuclear power begins in 1956, the history of Britain’s involvement with nuclear weaponry goes back further into the years after the Anti-Fascist Wars. Ever since James Chadwick’s discovery of the neutron in 1932, British science had been intimately involved with the development of human knowledge about the nuclear domain. By the late 1940s, research by chemists and physicists at the Universities of Birmingham and Cambridge had validated the theory that radioactive substances, particularly uranium, could be used to produce power through the process of nuclear fission. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, research into nuclear science became more and more secretive. While British scientists continued their theoretical research, there was little indication that the potential of nuclear fission to power the country would be realised – nor was there any hint that nuclear power had been realised in any other countries.


In November 1950, at the lowest point of the Korean War, the United States Army shocked the world by deploying experimental ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons during their bloody advance against the Chinese. British ministers had little idea that scientists in the United States knew of the potential of nuclear fission, thus to discover in such violent fashion that the advances of their own scientists had been outstripped was a devastating blow to Britain’s perceived prestige. To Mosley, the lesson to be learnt from the Korean War was clear: Britain could no longer afford to be complacent in the application of its scientific knowledge. While General Ridgway privately vowed never again to make use of the terrible power of nuclear weaponry, his resolution went unanswered. With a great and horrifying flash, the nuclear era had dawned on the world.


Chairman Mosley responded to the news that the United States had acquired nuclear capability with the formation of the British Nuclear Research Council in January 1951. The first meeting of the BNRC was convened at Bletchley Park under the direction of Edwin Plowden, a senior civil servant at the Office for Economic Planning. Bletchley was chosen as a site owing to its incredibly fortuitous location, situated along the railway line between Cambridge, the home of the Cavendish Institute for Experimental Physics, and Oxford, as well as being conveniently connected by rail to London, Birmingham and Manchester. The ‘Defence’ division of the BNRC was chaired by William Penney, a mathematician formerly of the the London College of Science[1] who had worked on the British nuclear programme since the early 1940s. Penney was the man charged by Mosley with producing a British nuclear arsenal. He was given a strict timetable on which the deliver the goods; Mosley wanted a bomb before the end of 1954, and Penney was in full agreement as to the urgency of the matter. As he put it, “the discriminative test for a first-class power is whether it has made an atomic bomb, and we have either got to pass the test or suffer a serious loss of prestige both inside this country and internationally.”



1950s%20PENNEY.jpg

William Penney, the man charged with delivering the British nuclear deterrent.


Over the next four years, the weapons programme at the BNRC tested a range of nuclear devices with limited success. By 1954, it was evident that the Commonwealth was going to struggle to hit its target of producing an independent bomb by the end of the year. The BNRC secured a significant victory in the nuclear battle when it oversaw the opening of the world’s first commercial nuclear power station at Windscale in Cumbria in August 1954, but this already had been overshadowed by the detonation of the world’s first hydrogen bomb – “Castle Bravo” – by the United States that March. Castle Bravo was several orders of magnitude more devastating than the nuclear devices deployed in Korea, and signalled to the world that Korea was not an aberration. The nuclear age was well and truly established, and the struggle for supremacy in the Cold War would now demand investment into the production of devices of staggering destructive capacity.


Before Britain’s own successful detonation of a nuclear device, the Soviet Union shocked the world again with the detonation of their own thermonuclear weapon in February 1955. This development was the result of a doctrine of “asymmetrical parity” devised and prosecuted by Nikita Khrushchev and Soviet premier Georgi Malenkov. Having been altered to the dangers of the American monopoly on nuclear weapons technology, the Soviets pursued a strategy that would allow them to compete with the United States in terms of damage potential without needing to match the size of their arsenal. Thus Soviet scientists had worked towards the production of a device far greater than that used in Korea from the start of the decade, and were rewarded in devastating fashion after only four years of development. Their nuclear programme had greatly benefited from the collection of scientific intelligence from the United States, and the race to detonate ever bigger and more terrible bombs was accompanied by an increase in suspicions of technological espionage. Scientific enquiry, where it could feasibly lead to an advantage in the technological theatre of the Cold War, was jealously protected by the height of the 1950s. Still today, the promise of a world where free, joint enquiry might be put to use in the service of constructive ends remains a distant and poignant dream.



1954%20CASTLE%20BRAVO.jpg

"Castle Bravo" detonated off the Bikini Atoll in March 1954, signalling the dawn of the thermonuclear age.


Having been upstaged by both the Americans and the Soviets, Mosley was already dreaming of a British H-bomb by the time his efforts were gratified with the success of White Flash. Production of an H-bomb, however, was a far greater challenge than that posed by the construction of an A-bomb. The exact processes remain unknown and hidden behind state classifications, although intelligence leaked by members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1960 suggests that the H-bomb operates by a “two-stage” process, in which energy from a primary fission reaction is used to fuel a secondary, far more powerful fusion reaction. This requires considerable quantities of the radioactive hydrogen isotope tritium, produced by the bombardment of lithium-magnesium with neutrons. In normal circumstances, the production of tritium would have called for the construction of a new, specialised reactor; none of the existing British nuclear reactors were equipped to generate tritium safely. Nevertheless, according to the tight schedule demanded by Chairman Mosley, there was no time to build such a reactor. As a result, the existing facilities at Windscale – where commercial electricity generation was a cover for the production of weapons-grade plutonium – were modified to allow for the production of the necessary materials.


From Autumn 1956, Windscale began the production of large quantities of tritium at an alarming pace. The materials needed for this task were all highly flammable, and required great care in their use. At several points this care was not given, and following a government decision in March 1957 to override a number of previously implemented safety measures in order to boost production, site director and chief engineer Christopher Hinton resigned in protest. Hinton attempted to publish a warning about the perilous course taken by the British nuclear programme that June, but he was subject to censorship by Mosley’s government. Of chief concern was the decision taken by Ray Gunter, Secretary of the Office of Fuel and Power, to accelerate tritium production by reducing the size of the cooling fins on the fuel cartridges. This allowed for increased yields while removing a vital safety barrier against the chance of the fuel material overheating. Gunter’s decision was signed off by his ministerial superior, Director of the Office for Economic Planning Harold Macmillan, who was a firm ally of Mosley in his commitment to producing a British H-bomb. After the Windscale Crisis, it would be Macmillan who led the effort to cover up the government’s culpability, infamously dismissing the disaster as “an error of judgement”.



1959%20MACMILLAN.jpg

Harold Macmillan, Director of the OEP (1957–61)


In Summer 1957, the Commonwealth tested an H-bomb codenamed “Orange Sky” without success off the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Frustrated by this setback, Mosley announced that a second test would be conducted before the end of the year. He directed the staff at Windscale to maintain tritium production at its current high level. Britain would have its bomb, whatever the cost.


With predictable speed, this “at any cost” strategy took a disastrous turn. During a routine safety check on October 7, operators noticed unusual temperature readings that suggested a problem with the reactor core. Following standard procedure, involving a controlled release of energy, indicators suggested that the anomaly had been addressed and the reactor once again began behaving normally. Three days later, however, temperature readings once again gave cause for concern. Rather than cooling gradually after the energy release, the core was heating up and eventually hit a temperature of 400 degrees Celsius. Monitoring equipment relayed that this temperature rise was centred around one cartridge. Taken with an indication from detectors in the plant chimneys that a small amount of radiation had been released, evidence seemed to suggest that a cartridge had burst. This was a relatively routine problem, and the operators decided to control the rising temperature in the core by increasing the speed of the cooling fans in the reactor.


To the consternation of the reactor operators, the increased airflow did not lead to a cooling in the reactor. In fact, it produced the opposite effect; the reactor continued to heat up, and further still the radiation readings from the chimneys were rapidly increasing. A foreman arriving for work on the morning of October 10 noticed smoke coming out of the chimney, which usually spouted only steam. Temperatures continued to rise, and they operators began to suspect that the core was on fire. Attempts to examine the reactor remotely failed when a scanner jammed, thus it fell to the deputy reactor manager, a man called Tom Hughes, to inspect the core in person. Clad in full protective gear, he and a fellow operator removed an inspection plug from the reactor and looked inside. What they saw horrified them: “four channels of fuel glowing bright cherry red.”



1954%20MOSLEY%20OPENS%20WINDSCALE.jpg

Oswald Mosley presides over the official opening ceremony of the Windscale nuclear power station, 1954.


Without any assistance from site directors, and uncertain as to the severity of the incident, the operators attempted to fight the fire themselves using any methods available. Initial attempts to cool it with the fans proved counterproductive, and extinguishing it with liquid carbon dioxide proved similarly ineffective. By the morning of October 11, the core was burning at a temperature of 1,300 degrees Celsius. Reactor manager Tom Tuohy was faced with the prospect of the biological shield around the core collapsing, which would have exposed the site operators to extreme doses of radiation and severely complicated any further attempts at resolving the crisis. In desperation, he authorised an attempt to control the blaze using water – a highly risky strategy that laid open the possibility of oxidising the molten metal reactor fuel. This had the potential cause an explosion, which would have ripped open the weakened core shields. With no other option available, Tuohy watched as a dozen fire hoses were brought into the reactor, operators nervously inspecting for any signs of explosive hydrogen reactions. While no such reactions occurred, the water failed to bring the fire under control. The reactor operators were faced by the very real prospect of disaster on a massive scale, and an evacuation of the local area was being seriously considered. Tuohy ordered everyone out of the reactor building except himself and the fire chief and prepared for one final gamble, shutting off all cooling and ventilating air entering the reactor.


With the shutting off of air, the temperature in the reactor threatened to spike and leave the building inhospitable to firefighters. If this measure did not work, there would be little to be done to avert a major catastrophe. Tuohy climbed up to a high viewing platform to observe the effects of his final attempt to control the blaze. Mercifully, he was greeted by the sight of flames dying away before his own eyes. The fire began to draw in air from any and all possible sources in a desperate attempt to stay alight, but it was in vain, and after burning for almost four days straight, the blaze was extinguished. Its effects, however, would not be so easily controlled.



1957%20WINDSCALE%20WORKERS.jpg

Reactor operators at Windscale continued to work after the fire, despite fears over contamination of the surrounding area.


While protective devices on the reactor chimneys helped to mitigate the worst of the effects, the fire at Windscale sent vast quantities of radiation shooting across the British Isles. Initially, the Commonwealth government began the work of covering up the disaster, reporting that a “local incident” at Windscale had been safely brought under control “with minimal negative effects”. Milk from dairy farms within a 200 square-mile radius around the reactor was quietly collected and dumped into the Irish Sea. No settlements were evacuated, and there were no recorded fatalities from acute radiation poisoning, but it is estimated that the effects of the fallout have contributed to a spike in radiation-related health issues in the surrounding area. Over the last decade, as many as 250 deaths may be attributable to the Windscale fire, and countless further non-fatal illnesses and injuries. A report commissioned by Ray Gunter and conducted by William Penney was heavily censored and suppressed on the orders of Harold Macmillan, who feared a public backlash against the British nuclear programme, as well as the loss of international prestige. Publicly, blame for the crisis was laid at the reactor operators themselves, who became scapegoats for the failures of the Mosleyite directorial system.


This, ultimately, was the lesson of Windscale. Long after the fire was extinguished and the reactor repaired, this shameful episode cast a dark shadow over the highest echelons of British society. Mosley’s government scrambled at all costs to shield itself from the consequences of the disaster. Meanwhile, it was more than happy to land the blame at the feet of blameless individual workers. Nearly three decades after Mosley first took power after the Revolution, Windscale suggested a ruling class in decline, and an economic system in desperate need of reform. In spite of government suppression attempts, in the years after the fire the nuclear issue burst into the public consciousness as a key plank of the anti-Mosleyite opposition. Less than four years on from Windscale, Mosley fell from power, and there can be little doubt that the catastrophe played a significant role in the decline of the Britain he had built.


____________

1: Previously Imperial College until 1929.
 
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For Christ's sake, nuclear power was the way forward towards cleaner energy and they ruined it with the first bloody station. Idiots.

Hopefully everyone decided the elites were the problem, forced everyone to stick to the safety measures and carried on building them.
 
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So it seems here that Winsdscale played a similar effect on an authoritarian regime as Chernobyl did on Gorbachev's USSR. Though it appears in this timeline people are as unable to properly gauge nuclear costs as they are in our own: no one ever castigates coal like they do nuclear, and yet if you count the cost of the coal industry in lives lost through to immediate accident, lives shortened due to things like black lung, and the environment cost of coal - nuclear is a babe in the woods. Just goes to show - perception is everything.

Incidentally my favourite "take" on Windscale in fiction comes from the comic/graphic novel Action at a Distance - part of the Peter Grant/Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronvitich. For those interested in modern urban fantasy, written with a wicked sense of humour and more than a touch of satire, I recommend them.
 
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For Christ's sake, nuclear power was the way forward towards cleaner energy and they ruined it with the first bloody station. Idiots.

Hopefully everyone decided the elites were the problem, forced everyone to stick to the safety measures and carried on building them.

Well the mines are obviously going to have to be addressed sooner or later, so either way I don’t think nuclear power is out for the count just yet. Having the French around to spread the fission gospel will probably help.

So it seems here that Winsdscale played a similar effect on an authoritarian regime as Chernobyl did on Gorbachev's USSR.

I’d rather hoped that sense would come across. :)

Though it appears in this timeline people are as unable to properly gauge nuclear costs as they are in our own: no one ever castigates coal like they do nuclear, and yet if you count the cost of the coal industry in lives lost through to immediate accident, lives shortened due to things like black lung, and the environment cost of coal - nuclear is a babe in the woods. Just goes to show - perception is everything.

Indeed. And the miners have been crying out for improved safety measures for years, so now that their comrades in the nuclear industry are in the same boat it may well be time for the broader question to be addressed: “just what is the cost, human and otherwise, of our energy needs?”

Incidentally my favourite "take" on Windscale in fiction comes from the comic/graphic novel Action at a Distance - part of the Peter Grant/Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronvitich. For those interested in modern urban fantasy, written with a wicked sense of humour and more than a touch of satire, I recommend them.

A quick google gives me something of an idea of what this take involves, and I do have to say it looks wickedly crafted. :)
 

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Well the mines are obviously going to have to be addressed sooner or later, so either way I don’t think nuclear power is out for the count just yet. Having the French around to spread the fission gospel will probably help.

Have loads of nuke stations and when they find that north sea oil and gas, they can use it for something else or build a military surplus.
 
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Have loads of nuke stations and when they find that north sea oil and gas, they can use it for something else or build a military surplus.

Military surplus? In my Commonwealth of Britain?!
 

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Military surplus? In my Commonwealth of Britain?!

Not much other use for fossil fuels once you've got a nuclear state up and running, with other renewable energy sources added as and when they catch on. At some point, someone at eurosyn is going to want an army and I imagine they'll base the navy, and the uk their nuclear subs, in Great Britian. Jet fuel I suspect is going to be important too since there's three nuke factions on earth and they're all patrolling Europe constantly.

Given the apprppriation and deployment of early 20th century syndicalism thought, I'm surprised there isn't required national service already for everyone between 15 and 25 of at least some time working for the good of the People doing something, which for most would be military.
 

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Not much other use for fossil fuels once you've got a nuclear state up and running

The radical thing of course is just to leave them in the ground. (The fact that even suggesting this feels far and away the most far fetched possibility in this TL is… well, grim doesn’t quite cover it does it.)

Given the apprppriation and deployment of early 20th century syndicalism thought, I'm surprised there isn't required national service already for everyone between 15 and 25 of at least some time working for the good of the People doing something, which for most would be military.

The Workers Brigades are like armed people’s militias that vary place to place from being little more than local scouting units to being crack guerrilla warfare specialists. Basically depends on who’s leading a given unit. In times of war they can be organised as the army of the Commonwealth, but thanks to Marshal Wintringham the military is voluntarist – so no-one can be drafted against their will (this also kicks out national service).
 

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The radical thing of course is just to leave them in the ground. (The fact that even suggesting this feels far and away the most far fetched possibility in this TL is… well, grim doesn’t quite cover it does it.)

Again, someone in Eurosyn is going to need it.
 
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Very good update. Amazed I've never heard of this incident until now.

Thank you! And yeah, as a crisis it has been pretty well excised from the popular memory. (Which is astonishing, considering how severe it was.) Fittingly, it was Harold Macmillan who presided over the cover up OTL as well; he feared that letting the story out would nix any hope of the US sharing their nuclear secrets with Britain, so he suppressed the enquiry and his government played down fears. (The “error of judgement” line is real.) Obviously in this case Mosley also wants to cover it up, but for sort of the opposite reason. We’ll soon see how well this goes for him…
 

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Finally found the time and will to write today for the first time in a few weeks, so obviously I get distracted halfway through and start recutting Kubrick trailers so they fit within the Echoes canon. (The things I do for you lot!) Anyway, the final few touches to the Sixties timeline are being nailed down so hopefully once we get into autumn and there's nothing better to do I can start writing for real. (I'm also sort of waiting to see what effect no longer doing a degree will have on my susceptibility to SAD…) This is just to give an idea of where we're headed for the rest of the year. I imagine that by the end of October-ish we'll have finally hit the Sixties, which means something like one more month of Mosley's downfall.

Speaking of, I might put the next update up tonight, if not tomorrow. It takes a bit more of a look at the fallout (ho ho) from Windscale, through the eyes of someone sort of in the thick of it.
 
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More Than A Shambles, A Shame: Crossman on Windscale (1957–59)

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ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



MORE THAN A SHAMBLES, A SHAME
CROSSMAN ON WINDSCALE

FROM A GOVERNMENT DIARY
DICK CROSSMAN
1975



17 October 1957


The Executive Committee met today on a matter of some urgency, and more than a little secrecy, and being only a junior member of the government I was not called to attend. This was not in itself out of the ordinary, as Mosley often conducted his business with only the senior ministers in the name of administrative efficiency. Nevertheless, the mystery surrounding today’s session was unusual. Curious (perhaps too much so for my own good), I questioned Aneurin [Bevan, President of the Commonwealth] about the morning’s committee that afternoon. It was common knowledge that Aneurin was tired of Mosley’s increasingly paranoid leadership, and he readily disclosed to me what had happened during the session. As he explained it, last week there had been an incident at the nuclear reactor at Windscale in Cumbria. Today the executive was briefed on it for the first time.


The Chairman had not gone into detail about the incident, except to admit that it had occurred but that it was now under control. This, he explained, was to safeguard intelligence relating to the nuclear programme, which he feared might be compromised by too full a revelation. Mosley insisted that those who needed to know the details of the matter knew them, but that they would not be made common knowledge. Harold Macmillan [Director of the Office for Economic Planning] supported Mosley in this stance, as, predictably, did [John] Strachey. Aneurin challenged that a policy of transparency would doubtless serve the government far better in the long term, but his dissenting opinion did not find favour, except with the ever faithful Jennie [Lee, Chair of the People’s Assembly and Bevan’s wife].


Ken Younger [International Secretary] then admitted that he had known about the incident since yesterday morning, when he made contact with Alain Le Léap [the French Foreign Minister] concerning its implications for the Commonwealth’s European commitments. Aneurin imagined that this intervention was more intended to reassure him than work in Mosley’s defence, though once [Hilary] Marquand said his piece about the Dafacom perspective [Committee for Defence and Anti-Fascist Action] it seemed as if Nye was being purposely kept in the dark. I did not wish to speculate on this, although I admitted that it did not seem impossible when one considered the state of Nye’s relationship with Mosley. The two men are always civil, but it is easy to register a hint of mutual mistrust. I imagine that this rivalry will have to give way before too long. When it does reach its climax, I think it will likely end with one of the men out of government for good.



1960s CROSSMAN.jpg

Richard 'Dick' Crossman, assiduous diarist and ally of Nye Bevan.



23 October 1957


A week on from the secret meeting over Windscale, it is fast becoming apparent that Mosley’s strategy of keeping a lid on things will not hold out for much longer. In the Irish press this morning there was a story that described how physicists in Belfast had detected iodine-131 radionuclides in the air, and alleged that they had originated in Britain. The geography, as well as recent meteorological conditions, seems to suggest that this anomaly is related to the incident at Windscale, the full details of which remain known only to an ‘inner circle’ within the executive committee.


In the afternoon, Aneurin was able to shed some light on the matter. He told me that Ken Younger had admitted to the executive that morning that his conversation with Le Léap last week had concerned a familiar situation, in which researchers in Caen had detected radioactive isotopes with their laboratory equipment. Mosley was apparently annoyed by Younger’s disclosure, but Bevan was heartened to have Ken come around to his way of thinking. Younger realised now that the situation was serious, even if Mosley was being entirely truthful in saying that it was now under control, and he advised that Britain had a duty to inform its allies and neighbours of any danger should it exist. Macmillan dismissed this idea and insisted there was no danger, but Nye seems to think that the ‘inner circle’ have probably been rattled by the international exposure. Now that Younger is on his side, the senior committee is theoretically deadlocked, with Hilary Marquand the deciding voice. Nye intends to broach the subject informally this evening, and is reasonably confident that we will have full disclosure within the government.



1961 YOUNGER.jpg

Kenneth Younger, International Secretary (1954–61).



1 November 1957


The Windscale affair drags on. Following Monday’s executive committee vote in favour of partial disclosure, the government has been under siege on multiple fronts about its handling of the affair. Most wounding for Mosley was a note of censure from Bob Boothby, who called from Lyon to express Eurosyn’s disapproval of the government’s response to the crisis. Now that the facts are known I have to say that I think Boothby is quite justified, and I agree that the course adopted by Mosley, Macmillan and company was entirely reckless. There is talk of the BNRC [British Nuclear Research Council] being federated into a Eurosyn-wide body as a means of ensuring greater transparency between the allies. Anglo–French cooperation is already effective, so I do not see the harm in this policy, though naturally Mosley considers it a great affront to British prestige.


Elsewhere, the BNRC is under more immediate threat. A coalition of anti-nuclear protesters picketed Bletchley Park today, resulting in nine arrests. The protesters were mostly young students from London and Cambridge, although apparently more organised forces are also at work. The opposition have been rallying around the nuclear debate for some time now, and I get the sense that they will take this crisis as the fillip they need to become more emboldened in their dissent. Although I am a member of Mosley’s government, I cannot bring myself to think ill of the protesters. Mosley’s handling of Windscale has frankly been more than a shambles, it is a great shame upon Britain.


One noticeable effect of the crisis for the Bureau [of Coal and Steel] has been the extent to which it has galvanised the unions. Aneurin has been on the phone all day with Alwyn Machen [President of the National Union of Mineworkers] who is deeply concerned that the government intends to abandon coal in favour of nuclear energy. I spent the afternoon in a meeting with Harry Wood of the AEUW [Allied Energy and Utility Workers Union] who is threatening strike action, and says he has the numbers to get it through legally. This situation being what it is, I do not doubt him. I cannot help but feel that Mosley’s intransigence over the question of transparency has implicated us in a far deeper mess than would have perhaps been caused by the fire on its own.



1952%20BAN%20THE%20BOMB.jpg

Youth groups protesting Britain's nuclear programme had been a near constant feature of the past decade.



3 March 1958


A significant advance for the pan-syndicalist nuclear programme today with the inaugural meeting of the Nuclear Council of the European Syndicate (CNSE), held in rooms at the Cavendish Institute in Cambridge. From a purely moral perspective, I remain uncertain of the need for either a British bomb or a syndicalist bomb, but it easy enough to appreciate the benefits of multilateral development on the issue, particularly after the damage to intra-Eurosyn relations done by Mosley’s handling of Windscale. We have not yet escaped the shadow of that incident, and the anti-nuclear movement grows apace. A group of students picketed the CNSE meeting this morning, much to the chagrin I think of Professor [John] Cockcroft [CNSE Director], who continues to see the fundamental good in the work he and his colleagues carry out. By all appearances he was much put out by a banner which protestors had draped from the back court of Benet College, which read: atoms for peace. Professor Cockcroft, one of the Commonwealth’s most distinguished physicists, is no cold warrior, and I think very sceptical of the harnessing of science by national governments. Should Mosley insist on pushing the weapons side of the CNSE, I believe that he might soon alienate more than a few scientists far more interested in more peaceable work. Yet this is what they sign up for.


In the background, the dispute with the energy workers continues without resolution. The Miners too are restless, and I worry that in Mosley’s pursuit of prestigious grand projects he is neglecting the basic work of organising the country’s industrial output. Entry into the Coal and Steel Community has called for a vast restructuring of our mines, collieries and foundries, and perhaps we would be better served liaising with Boothby, who I think is quite happy directing affairs from Lyon free of Mosley’s interference. The economy, however, remains more or less unchanged since the years after the last wars, and it seems fairly basic stuff that it will soon require our attention. Aneurin knows this and continues to do what he can to keep the pits running smoothly. However high he climbs, he never seems to lose sight of that young man doing his bit for the South Wales Miners’ Federation in 1927. For this reason among others he is sceptical of the nuclear adventures, and if ever this whole affair blows up in Mosley’s face for good, Nye will come out quite well by contrast.



1961 COCKCROFT.jpg

Professor John Cockcroft, Director of the Nuclear Council of the European Syndicate.
One of the men who first split the atom, Cockcroft was jointly honoured with the Nobel Prize in 1951.



7 April 1958


Across the Easter weekend, somewhere in the region of four thousand people marched forty-seven miles from Trafalgar Square to the BNRC headquarters at Bletchley to demonstrate their opposition to the continuation of our nuclear programme. It seems likely that those behind the march are linked to the groups involved in the Bletchley picket last November, although they are now far more professionally organised. Two campaigns have announced themselves as joint coordinators of the action: the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear Warfare (DAC) and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Although distinct entities, both seem to operate along similar lines: non-violent, associated with the broader leftist opposition, and singularly committed to British disarmament in particular. Aneurin and I have had some frustrations of our own at the Bureau as a result of their actions, although privately we are both in broad agreement with their principles. The DAC leadership have been liaising with a number of unions active in and around the nuclear sector calling upon workers to quit their jobs as “facilitators of the global nuclear war” and strike in favour of disarmament. There are fractions within the mining union that are quite receptive to this call to arms, always appreciative of an excuse to knock the nuclear sector for their own benefit. Energy and Utilities are less enthusiastic, but that is mostly [Fuel and Power Minister] Ray Gunter’s problem and affects us far less.


Aneurin told me as we read report of the Bletchley march that he had been invited to address the anti-nuclear crowd at Trafalgar Square. Whether the DAC-CND leadership know of the extent of his own scepticism to the bomb, I’m not sure. I suspect that they simply made the offer on the basis of a) his enduring reputation as a hero of the Revolution, and b) his position as President of the Commonwealth. Nye was of more than half a mind to accept, though even he recognised that this would needlessly provoke Mosley and declined to attend. In committee tomorrow morning I anticipate that Mosley will be eager to make an example of the protestors, as he continues to be frustrated by slow progress in the quest to produce an H-bomb. Twenty-two demonstrators were arrested on various minor charges once the march arrived at Bletchley, including the veteran left-wing priest John Groser, an associate of the former revolutionary Commander [Phil] Piratin’s. Chairman Mosley is perhaps unconcerned by the prospect of creating martyrs for the anti-nuclear movement. I think in any event they shall have them.



1950s REV GROSER.jpg

The Rev. St. John Groser, Anglo-Catholic priest and chaplain to the Bishop of London.



28 March 1959


For the second Easter weekend in a row, the anti-nuclear coalition have organised a march between London and Bletchley to demonstrate their opposition to the development of the syndicalist thermonuclear weaponry programme. Last year the procession started at Trafalgar Square and ended up at a picket at Bletchley Park, but this year the direction was reversed. The change in signification is clear enough: this time around, the protestors are marching on the seat of power itself. The reverse in direction has had an auxiliary effect, which is that as the march gets closer to London more and more people are able to join. Reports estimate that as many as ten times the number of protestors as last year are involved, and it would be foolish to regard this as anything other than a mass demonstration against the government.


Our own position has become quite delicate, and Aneurin has been attempting to tread a thin line between the demands of the nuclear workers and the collieries. For the moment it seems that any hopes or fears of a mass switch over to nuclear power following the advent of the British nuclear programme were overstated, and the coal power stations retain their supremacy. At the same time, if we are to negotiate the need to pacify the nuclear sector while maintaining jobs for reactor operators we must guarantee a secure civilian nuclear industry. As the situation stands, British coal is protected by membership of the Eurosyn Coal and Steel Community, and production is shielded from the rise of cheap coal and oil and gas in Asia and elsewhere, which is flooding the markets in the capitalist world and making hell for workers in other countries. But still domestic demand for British coal is down by 10 million tons since 1956, and our industry is kept afloat by recourse to a number of bilateral trade agreements. For now, this arrangement keeps nearly one million men in work, but the situation is anxious, and any serious alteration to the provision of energy in this country would be accompanied by severe social changes, and doubtless a good deal of industrial unrest. It is an overlooked aspect of the nuclear debate, with the focus so heavily weighted towards the deterrence argument, but the civilian application of nuclear power remains a significant possibility, and one which in time could have an equally profound effect on the Commonwealth.



1962 CND CROWD.jpg

An anti-nuclear protest in London, 1959.



15 June 1959


Mosley’s wait is at last at an end. The CNSE has successfully detonated a thermonuclear device in the desert of Northern Mali, and in so doing Eurosyn has taken its long anticipated place as the world’s third thermonuclear power. The device in question was called “Red Lion”, a three-megaton explosive that produced a mushroom cloud over one thousand feet tall. Shockwaves from the blast were felt many dozens of miles away in Algeria, and the autonomous government are up in arms about it. One is not heartened by the prospect of nuclear testing reopening the only recently sealed wounds of the Algerian Crisis.


It feels in many ways a terrible thing, the culmination of a decade of scrambling towards this instrument of mass destruction. The Syndicate has won itself all of the concomitant prestige afforded to a power in possession of the hydrogen bomb, but this is an awful prospect and one that does not sit easily at all for the future of world relations. The next decade will dawn under the shadow of a mushroom cloud, and those of us interested in the cause of peace – and not just deterrence – must ensure that we do not end up consumed by it. I spoke to Anna [Crossman’s wife] after we watched the footage of the Red Lion blast on television. Sat in our drawing room, with the television on one side and the record player on the other, we both felt quite insulated from the horror that our government had just unleashed, and not for the first time sympathetic to those protestors who picket Bletchley with their banners that read, you cannot vaccinate against the nuclear fallout.


In the evening I telephoned Aneurin, who was similarly disturbed by the test and is now more than ever resolved to oppose the escalation of the British nuclear weapons programme. He spoke of harnessing what he called the ‘white heat of technology’ for the good of mankind, not in the service of our common destruction. I hope that it will be this more optimistic spirit that guides us into the new decade, and that soon we might leave behind the dark spectres of our nuclear obsession.
 
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I suspect more and more unrest over coal as it inevitably has to cease production and transfer to something else. There quite simply isn't enough left, and there's much better options coming along every few years.
 

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If one seeks to be a power, one has to be a nuclear power. The world being as it is, not as we would wish it.

I do feel sorry for the ordinary coal-workers, but to be brutally honest the eventual closing of the pits will probably do wonders - in the long term - for the general health and wellbeing of the miners and their descendants. Not to mention the environmental cost - the first glimmerings of which are surely not long away now. And I would not be surprised if the union grips ever more tightly to what it has even as what is has starts so slip away - it will be like trying to grip sand in a fist.
 

Wraith11B

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A poignant representation of what it must feel like with the development of such weapons at the fore. While we have thankfully moved on a bit (albeit only slightly), it still casts a shadow onto the modern day.
 

DensleyBlair

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I suspect more and more unrest over coal as it inevitably has to cease production and transfer to something else. There quite simply isn't enough left, and there's much better options coming along every few years.

Aye, it’s coming. The task of course is handling the shift away from coal better than OTL. Which theoretically shouldn’t be too difficult, seeing as the bar is on the floor.

It won’t be a major topic over the Sixties, but it will come back again in the Seventies.

If one seeks to be a power, one has to be a nuclear power. The world being as it is, not as we would wish it.

Aye, we need it with a Union Jack on it, etc etc.

I do feel sorry for the ordinary coal-workers, but to be brutally honest the eventual closing of the pits will probably do wonders - in the long term - for the general health and wellbeing of the miners and their descendants. Not to mention the environmental cost - the first glimmerings of which are surely not long away now.

There is a bit of a meme in certain circles of the internet about how much of a fuss “the left” make about coal, considering its appalling health and environmental costs. Of course, this misses the point: the question isn’t whether we should keep the pits open, it’s what we do for the mineworkers once we’ve accepted they have to close.

One has to hope, considering who is likely to be in power when the question is asked versus who was in charge OTL, that the workers will get themselves a better deal in the long run.

And I would not be surprised if the union grips ever more tightly to what it has even as what is has starts so slip away - it will be like trying to grip sand in a fist.

At first, yes, I think you’re right. And very lucidly put. We’re already seeing some of this with the furore around Windscale, but in the long run I think there may be some flexibility. There are plenty of examples in the Seventies of workers reacting to prospective job losses with creative plans for positive restructuring. (I’m a big fan of the Lucas plan, for one.)

A poignant representation of what it must feel like with the development of such weapons at the fore. While we have thankfully moved on a bit (albeit only slightly), it still casts a shadow onto the modern day.

Thank you. We have our own existential terrors to contend with today, of course. But the nuclear threat is its own breed of nightmare. Definitely gives things a poignant edge when writing around the period.
 
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DensleyBlair

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Been mildly distracted writing-wise by some incipient non-AARland projects (“what do you mean, non-AARland!??”), as well as some tentative and amateurish forays into researching an industrial / economic situation for the Commonwealth coming out of the Sixties. (Trying to be a bit more divergent than just, “Thatcher, but not psychopathic“. I have a general idea already, but if anyone has any potential points of investigation, I’m all ears. Otherwise I’ll just get lost in Heath ministry white papers about coal supply, and no one wants that.) I’ll probably try and find a moment over the next couple of days to put the next update out. I can’t remember what it involves exactly. I think maybe it’s another one of those bold forays into conversational narrative exposition.

Looking ahead, I think we’re heading back into an off-season slow down, and I’m sure most people are off hunting for bugs in CK3, but I’ll probably keep the update momentum up here going into autumn regardless. That probably sees us at 1969 by the New Year? Do shout if things are pushing along too fast.

Oh, and there’s been a minor spate of new lurkers reacting to some of the early chapters lately. So if that’s you and you’ve just stumbled across this thread, great to have you aboard! Glad to know people are still finding this and reading from the start. Would love to hear any thoughts any of you may have. :)

Anyway this was just your semi-regular BTS update, nothing to do with my vain aversion to hiding updates away at the bottoms of pages. Next chapter soon. Stayed tuned!
 
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Le Jones

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Just catching up @DensleyBlair and am enjoying the Windscale calamity and its aftermath. I must congratulate you on your portrayal of Penney, a man I've always admired, he reminds me, in a way, of George VI (the crushing shyness, the weight of expectation etc).

If one seeks to be a power, one has to be a nuclear power. The world being as it is, not as we would wish it.

I know @DensleyBlair has already responded, but this. True in our world, true in this one.

Looking ahead, I think we’re heading back into an off-season slow down, and I’m sure most people are off hunting for bugs in CK3, but I’ll probably keep the update momentum up here going into autumn regardless. That probably sees us at 1969 by the New Year? Do shout if things are pushing along too fast.

I did play it for a bit, but (tin hats at the ready) can't get into it. I find the 867 start unplayable in Western Europe, and 1066 is just a pile of 'meh'. So I'm 'retiring' it until some patches make it enjoyable.

Ironically, given my hatred of the Vanilla game, I've had fun in Vic2 recently. I still find it weirdly 'small' in scope, but I've had fun as Spain and GB.
 
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