Reappraisal of the “Stay Put” Policy – 1983

In an article in The Guardian (July 11, 1983; Page: 3 “Nuclear War Evacuations Planned“) there is a brief note on how the Civil Contingencies Unit of the Home Office (UK) was rethinking traditional advice on staying put on the event of a nuclear crisis:

“It is the first indication that the Government is thinking of reversing its traditional Civil Defence Advice for people to stay where they are.”

This re-examination of the “Stay Put” policy tells us several things; the first is that the government does expect to fight a limited nuclear war: as the advice considers telling those who live near major military bases in East Anglia and Scotland to evacuate.

It tells us also that the bases do actually make these areas targets for an attack – something that was frequently denied – tacitly admits deterrence might fail and that the stay-put policy was condemning millions to death if a nuclear war ever broke out.

Yet, as is always the case with civil defence in the nuclear era it tries to reconcile many contradictory points:

“Stay at Home”

As was hammered home in Protect and Survive Stay at Home was a key message. The internal logic of Protect and Survive said that because of fall-out:

…no part of the United Kingdom will be safer than any other…

Which depending on the scale of the attack is absolutely true. Regardless of any ulterior motive for insisting civilians to stay at home, the truth is that the path of fall-out is unpredictable and it could drift anyway (however areas effected by fire and blast can be more reasonably assumed – major industrial areas are probably more at risk than empty fields).

Evacuations Incompatible with Deterrance

If there was still any truth to the theory of deterrance in 1983 anything that encompasses large scale evacuations is an anathema to it. As Gwynne Dyer puts it in Notes on Nuclear War this only works if each side is kept as helpless hostages to the other’s weapons. Any sign of civil defence in the form of evacuations could cause either be highly destalising or even cause on side to escalate.

Where Would We Go?

Unlike large land masses like the United States or Russia, the question for the UK is where would we go? In the theoretical but largely plausible attack in Operation Square Leg or attack “H” in Openshaw’s Doomsday, the areas of the United Kingdom not effected by at least 1PSI of overpressure, blast, fire or all three are pretty small. Parts of the West Country, central and northern Wales and northern Scotland are the least effected by these hazards however they also have some of the lowest housing density and food reserves.

Although trying to crowd millions of these people in small parts of the UK may offer some small amount of protection for an initial attack (although in practical terms doing so would be nearly impossible and would be a strong signal for war) the lack of shelter, food and protection from fall-out could quickly erode any minor gains.

The Times Jan 16 1980: “Government to give greater priority to protect millions of people”

On January 16th 1980 The Times ran a feature*Government to give greater priority to protect millions of people” and printed some details of the 1976 leaflet “Protect and Survive.

Civil Defence has come back on the agenda particularly after it was decided that United States Cruise Missiles were to be stationed in the UK and how these missiles may or may not have made Britain more of a target for Soviet missiles – John Pilger’s The Truth Game does go on to note that in the 1980 civil defence exercise, Square Leg, Greenham Common and Newbury were among the first places wiped out in their theoretical attack. Even if the USSR hadn’t targeted Greenham Common it seems that our own planners thought it highly likely.

In the article written by Peter Evans he goes on to note that civil defence was in for a considerable revival by the new Tory government having been left to largely languish after Labour effectively abolished civil defence with the standing down of the Civil Defence corps in 1968.

However the article weaves quite a contradictory story about civil defence and the effectiveness thereof. The UK’s defence planners are quoted as reckoning on a Soviet attack of between 180-200 megatons which in itself is probably a reliable figure, Operation Square Leg used 200MT as the scale of the attack and the same figure has appeared in Openshaw’s Doomsday from 1983. The article does highlight the government’s proposals to give higher priority to protect people from attack. The problem is that, as Openshaw and Campbell (among many others) have more or less said this scale of attack is literally indefensible.

In the 1982 QED documentary “A Guide To Armageddon” noted more than 77% of the UKs entire population live in cities. In the UK, combining all of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there are only 69 cities. The article reckons the USSR would attack with up to 200 one megaton weapons and targeting every city which would only use about 34.5% of the available force. There would be no serious way to protect even a fraction of the population from such an awesome attack. A further 28 large towns and metropolitan areas would take use up a further 28 weapons consuming about half of a possible attack leaving a huge destructive force for launching multiple weapons at cities as well as military and industrial areas outside cites.

The article looks at one of the silliest perspectives that could be found in Protect and Survive, that large areas would be completely spared blast and fire. I don’t think anyone has seriously disputed this: the problem is that almost no one lives there. The Soviet Union was pretty unlikely to target empty wilderness. As one of the characters in Threads said;

“where our Jack lives there’s only a row of houses and a pub, they’re not going to bomb that, are they?”


* Unfortunately you may need an academic or institutional login to read the full article.

Full citation: Peter Evans Home Affairs Correspondent. “Civil defence-1: Government to give greater priority to protect millions of people.” Times [London, England] 16 Jan. 1980: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 4 Jan. 2013.

The Peace Game – 1982

One of the more interesting bits of UK government propaganda came in the form of a film called “The Peace Game” from 1982. I think it’s worth setting out a proper historical context for this film; by 1982 the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was very active with anything up to 100,000 members1 and the opposition to Cruise and Pershing missiles being based on Europe had gained significant momentum. Arguments over disarmament and unilateralism had also gained traction.

This became a major headache to the government of the day and was well documented in Duncan Campbell’s Secret Society in 1987 in the episode “The Secret Constitution: Secret Cabinet Committees” and how the government sought to advance its own arguments over the value of deterrence.

From my own point of view this film is an attempt to startle the viewer into accepting deterrence, and all the baggage that goes with it, by portraying the USSR as a vast military-industrial complex which was numerically superior to in nearly every respect to the West. Reinforcing this, is the portrayal of the USSR as an expansionist power, swallowing up numerous Balkan and Central European satellite states. It never presented an alternative view that the USSRs motivation could have been seen as defensive; with no natural border between itself and Europe the USSR had reason to create buffers between itself and the West. It had been invaded numerous times, spanning the time from Napoleon to Hitler and had suffered catastrophically at every occasion.

The none-too-subtle subtext of The Peace Game is of suggested defeatism by selective interviews of the public concerning neutrality, unilateral disarmament and our NATO membership. They never actually confront the core counter-argument that Britain’s nuclear weapons and her decision to allow the United States to base them on her soil directly imperiled Britain to a far greater degree than any political movement. The USSR had warned repeatedly they would treat an attack on their territory by a US weapon as coming from the continental United States regardless of the geographical origin of the weapon.

The film can be seen in short form on both the UK National Archives site and YouTube and in long form on JISC Media Hub for those with an appropriate login as part of the Imperial War Museum archives.

Footnotes

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campaign_for_Nuclear_Disarmament#The_second_wave_1980-89

Cabinet Secretaries’ notebooks – plain speaking on Civil Defence

In the Cabinet Secretaries’ notebook series released in 2010 by the National Archives, there are some interesting and cryptic comments about Civil Defence, made on 21st December  1960.

In CAB 195/19 there are some very revealing comments about official thoughts regarding Civil Defence and its effectiveness:

“S.LI” (John Selwyn-Lloyd) Says:

If we were strictly logical, we shd. conclude that none of this is worth while.  But believe it is politically impossible to scrap C.D.

This is a very interesting comment as it seems to admit at least some in government already believed there was little point in Civil Defence and this was also long before the disbandment of the CD Corps in 1968. This admission is completely at odds with the fact that the CD Corps was also just about at its highest headcount as an organisation.

An additional comment reveals that mass evacuation may never been a realistic policy:

“H.B.” (Henry Brooke):

Evacuation.  No Govt. wd. ever order planned evacuation – for it wd. start 100% rush from big cities.  On that basis, our problem is one of presentn.  The 12 m. plan is un-workable.  At 6 m. plan is possible (tho’ I believe nonsensical : because vulnerable cities wd. be proclaimed non evacuable and because area of devastn. wd. be larger than evacuation area).  On balance recommend opening discn. with l.a.’s on basis of 6 m. – w’out commitment to the plan.

Even long before Peter Watkins suggested in The War Game that evacuation might fail, many years before this government officials in this document already seemed to have no illusions about the limits of an evacuation policy. As early as 1964 in official government films the general “stay put” policy had already been made explicit.

Radioactive Incident Monitoring Network (“RIMNET” – UK)

One of the lesser known networks in the United Kingdom is Radioactive Incident Monitoring Network or “RIMNET.” This network was set up in 1986 following the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear station in the Ukraine as part of the National Response Plan.

Rimnet is designed to monitor radiation dose across the entire United Kingdom (a map of all sites can be found here [PDF]) and relayed to a computer in London at the Department for Energy and Climate Change for near-immediate alerts to rises in radioactivity. It is managed by the Met Office. There are 92 sites spread across the UK in all areas both close to major cities, in rural areas and near or in MoD properties.

Rimnet was developed in three stages:

  • An initial system, RIMNET Phase 1, was installed in 1988 as an interim solution
  • The Phase 2 system operated until January 2005
  • Phase 3 went live in 2006

There was a detailed article in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry in 1993 detailing Phase 2 (Radiat Prot Dosimetry (1993) 50 (2-4): 171-176.) (see http://rpd.oxfordjournals.org/content/50/2-4/171):

The article gave a technical summary of the systems in use:

System Configuration
Monitors Type: Geiger-Muller
Measurement range: background to 3 mGy.h -1
Temperature –20oC to +40oC
Windspeed: up to 100 knots
Humidity up to 95%
Main CDF (“Central Database Facility” Configuration: two Digital VAX clustered processors
RIMNET workstation terminals, System Manager console and data storage
Communication Links Combination of leased lines, public data network (packet switched network for PCs), local Ethernet connections

In some ways RIMNET was a civil companion to the UK Warning and Monitoring Organisation before it was disbanded in 1991. However by Phase 2 of RIMNET it was much more sophisticated in collecting and transmitting radiation doses than the UKWMO ever was. RIMNET consisted of 90+ collection sites, fully automated than did not need personnel to man them. RIMNET, now at Phase 3, continues to monitor for radiation levels to this day.

References:

  1. http://archive.defra.gov.uk/evidence/statistics/environment/radioact/radrimnet.htm
  2. http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/publicsector/cbrn
  3. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20081105144808/defra.gov.uk/environment/radioactivity/emergencies/RIMNET/
  4. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/66034/4611-map-uk-rimnet-sites.pdf
  5. http://www.sepa.org.uk/radioactive_substances/what_we_do/emergency_response_planning.aspx
  6. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/66033/4610-rimnet-faqs.pdf
  7. http://rpd.oxfordjournals.org/content/50/2-4/171

Cabinet Record — Record of the Public Expenditure Survey Committee 1970

Cabinet Record — Record of the Public Expenditure Survey
Committee 1970

Author: Anthony Barber

Table 24 / Misc Surveys / Page 40

£Million estimates of Civil Defence expenditure

1969-1970* 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975
£1.4 £7.2 £8.5 £9.1 £9.7 9.1

* (pre-decimalisation)

The table shows that public expenditure for Civil Defence will not grow
beyond £10 million by the mid-1970s

Actual Expenditures

(Cabinet Papers 129/1/712)

£millions at 1973 prices

1968-1969 1970 1971 1972 1973
10.7 3.5 6.7 9.2 8.9

Revised Estimated Expenditures

£millions at 1973 prices

1973-1974 1975 1976 1977 1978
12.5 11.7 12.0 12.1 11.7

Government films accessioned by The National Archives

The UK National archives have a list of all government films they have accessioned – some 4800 films in total dating from pre-1939 almost up until the present day. The full list – available as a spreadsheet – contains a suprisingly small number of films that seem to be relayed to nuclear matters:

BRITISH NUCLEAR FUELS   COI + British Nuclear Fuels
FUEL FOR NUCLEAR POWER 1962 UKAEA
INTRODUCTION TO THE PRESSURE WATER REACTOR – NUCLEAR STEAM SUPPLY SYSTEM 1985 UKAEA
MANAGEMENT OF NUCLEAR WASTE 1982 DENE
NUCLEAR FUEL SERVICE 1985 UKAEA British Nuclear Fuels
NUCLEAR FUSION: ENERGY FOR THE 21ST CENTURY 1983 COI / DENE
NUCLEAR POWER REACTORS 1977 UKAEA
NUCLEAR POWER REACTORS 1961 UKAEA 
NUCLEAR POWER TODAY AND TOMORROW 1967 UKAEA
NUCLEAR SHIP SAVANNAH   COI
REPROCESSING NUCLEAR FUEL 1964 UKAEA
TECHNOLOGY OF NUCLEAR FUEL REPROCESSING 1986  
ZETA ZERO ENERGY THERMO-NUCLEAR ASSEMBLY 1954-8 COI

Civil Defence seems also not very well represented:

CIVIL DEFENCE CARTOON 1958 none listed
CIVIL DEFENCE IN 1962 (HOME SECRETARY’S BROADCAST) 1962 none listed
PROTECT AND SURVIVE 1976 COI/HOME OFFICE
SHOULD DISASTER STRIKE  1987 COI PRODUCTIONS (1977 – 1992)

Unfortunately there isn’t much in the way of a description and some titles don’t adequately describe the contents of the film so there is a chance much interesting material may be very hard to spot.

“Nuclear injured would have to wait”

An interesting story from The Guardian from 1977 (page 5, Feb 5th) on the injured might be  treated by the NHS after a nuclear attack on the United Kingdom.

The story discusses a Department of Health Circular on how the NHS would deal with patients after a nuclear strike. It paints a picture of the most extreme form of triage treatment; the priority patients would only be those who would be mostly likely to survive and patients suffering radiation sickness would simply be sent home and deal with it as best they could.

The circular also discusses withholding NHS staff from areas stricken with fallout and in this sense is consistent with the Protect and Survive advice which instructs the householder to lay-in 14 days of supplies – the same time limit the circular recommends that staff should be kept from dangerous areas.

Unfortunately the story doesn’t really cover how may NHS staff might actually survive the initial attack or whether the circular covered this at all. There is no reason to suppose whether NHS staff would be in any less or more danger than anyone else so it seems likely they would make up the same proportion of casualties as the rest of the population. As the nuclear war drama Threads also made clear without drugs, water, electricity and wound dressings most medical staff would be no better prepared to help than the nearest survivor.

There is no mention of the dispersal of staff however it does mention the specific clearing of patients in hospitals for incoming casualties which leads to interesting questions on whether patients could be nursed at home, whether the hospitals themselves would survive the attack in any meaningful way, who would staff them after attack and how many of those sent home prior to attack would need extra nursing care in the aftermath.

Reappraisal of the “Stay Put” Policy – 1983

In an article in The Guardian (July 11, 1983; Page: 3 “Nuclear War Evacuations Planned“) there is a brief note on how the Civil Contingencies Unit of the Home Office (UK) was rethinking traditional advice on staying put on the event of a nuclear crisis:

“It is the first indication that the Government is thinking of reversing its traditional Civil Defence Advice for people to stay where they are.”

This re-examination of the “Stay Put” policy tells us several things; the first is that the government does expect to fight a limited nuclear war: as the advice considers telling those who live near major military bases in East Anglia and Scotland to evacuate.

It tells us also that the bases do actually make these areas targets for an attack – something incredibly yet frequently denied, tacitly admits deterrence might fail and that the stay-put policy was condemning millions to death if a nuclear war ever broke out.

Yet, as is always the case with civil defence in the nuclear era it tries to reconcile many contradictory points:

“Stay at Home”

As was hammered home in Protect and Survive Stay at Home was a key message. The internal logic of Protect and Survive said that because of fall-out:

…no part of the United Kingdom will be safer than any other…

Which depending on the scale of the attack is absolutely true. Regardless of any ulterior motive for insisting civilians to stay at home, the truth is that the path of fall-out is unpredictable and it could drift anyway (however areas effected by fire and blast can be more reasonably assumed – major industrial areas are probably more at risk than empty fields).

Evacuations Incompatible with Mutual Assured Destruction

If there was still any truth to the theory of Mutual Assured Destruction 1983 anything that encompasses large scale evacuations is an anathema to it. As Gwynne Dyer puts it in Notes on Nuclear War mutual assured destruction only works if each side are kept as helpless hostages to the other’s weapons. Any sign of civil defence in the form of evacuations could cause the other side to push the pre-emptive nuclear button.

Where Would We Go?

Unlike large land masses like the United States or Russia, the question for the UK is where would we go? In the theoretical but largely plausible attack in Operation Square Leg or attack “H” in Openshaw’s Doomsday, the areas of the United Kingdom not effected by at least 1PSI of overpressure, blast, fire or all three are pretty small. Parts of the West Country, central and northern Wales and northern Scotland are the least effected by these hazards however they also have some of the lowest housing density and food reserves.

Although trying to crowd millions of these people in small parts of the UK may offer some small amount of protection for an initial attack (although in practical terms doing so would be nearly impossible and would be a strong signal for war) the lack of shelter, food and protection from fall-out could quickly erode any minor gains.