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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 January 2008, 13:40 GMT
Nuclear veterans vow to fight on
By Jon Kelly
BBC News

Sellafield plant
Sellafield was a focal point for anti-nuclear protestors

The government's proposals for a new generation of atomic power stations have sparked the memories of veterans of much earlier anti-nuclear campaigns.

But although they acknowledge much has changed, the fight continues for this wave of activists.

When Pete Roche clambered over a fence in protest at plans for a new nuclear power station, he did not realise the young radical scaling the wire beside him would one day become foreign secretary.

And when he organised a mass rally at the same site years later, he could not have foreseen that one of his enthusiastic backers would one day be chancellor of the exchequer - and a keen supporter of atomic energy.

The late Robin Cook and Alistair Darling - two of Pete's old anti-nuclear comrades - may have altered their views about the industry as they climbed the political ladder.

But as he looks back on a lifetime of activism, Pete, 51, is convinced that the government's plan to build more nuclear plants are disastrous.

'Got it wrong'

"Nothing anyone has said has changed my mind about nuclear power - that it's dangerous and wrong," he says.

"When they start work on new plants, I'm sure we'll see the same kind of protests that we saw a quarter of a century ago."

Pete Roche
He's got it wrong now
Pete Roche on former comrade Alistair Darling

Living in Edinburgh, Pete helped set up the Scottish Campaign to Resist the Atomic Menace (Scram) in 1976.

The group focused its energies on opposing the construction of Torness nuclear power station in East Lothian. Pete helped organise 10,000-strong rallies at the site in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Occupying buildings on the site, the group pioneered what he calls "polite direct action" - avoiding violence and destructive protests.

Instead of cutting fences with wires, they would climb up stacks of hay donated by farmers and jump over - Robin Cook being one of the activists who took part alongside Pete.

And he was not the only future cabinet minister to help out. As chair of Lothian Regional Council's transport committee, Mr Darling - then a left-wing firebrand, now an enthusiastic supporter of new nuclear plants - laid on free buses to carry protestors to Torness from Edinburgh for a major demonstration.

Pete - who campaigned for Mr Darling's election as Labour MP for Edinburgh Central in 1987 - is not impressed by his former colleague's conversion to nuclear.

Passionate opponent

"I'm a bit annoyed with him, actually, because I worked hard to get him elected," says Pete, who now works as an energy and employment consultant.

"He says he's changed his mind, that he wasn't just stringing us along back then. But he's got it wrong now."

Another long-standing anti-nuclear campaigner is Jean McSorley, 49, who formed the group Cumbrians Against a Radioactive Environment (Core) from her home town of Barrow-in-Furness in protest at the local Sellafield plant.

Jean McSorley
We'd be considered terrorists now
Jean McSorley

Even though her father had worked at the site as a steel erector, and her husband was a Royal Navy engineer on a submarine, Jean was a passionate opponent of the industry that she believed was poisoning her community and the planet.

As well as fighting compensation cases for Sellafield workers, Core, like Scram, took part in direct action campaigns - earning a string of injunctions and they chained themselves to railings.

"Once we swam across Barrow dock and occupied a crane that was supposed to be unloading a nuclear fuel carrier," Jean recalls.

"It was eight-and-a-half hours before anyone noticed us, and the police constable on the ground didn't come after us because he was afraid of heights. Can you imagine? We'd be considered terrorists now."

But Jean - now an energy campaigner for Greenpeace - has not changed her mind about her cause.

"The more I have seen of what nuclear power is doing to the planet, the more convinced I am that we were right all along," she says.

"The government will try to divide environmentalists by using the climate change argument, but what we need is investment in renewables."

Like Pete, she believes a new generation of campaigners will come forward to oppose the new plants.

"If you speak to young people, they are mostly very suspicious of nuclear," she says. "The government have got a fight on their hands."

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