Mike Townsley is aboard the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, which was just refused permission to enter Iran as part of our Middle East Peace Tour. --b
We must have been close to Iran, and in the Persian Gulf: A "Coalition" warship on patrol radioed us and asked if we would report to them anything suspicious. To be honest aircraft carriers have always struck me as being kind of suspicious. I was tempted to ask the USS 'whatever it was', who else was in their coalition?
'Yes, yes, everything is ready, we are just waiting on one more piece of paper,' our ships agent, Sam, told us last Wednesday. This was on the day before Iran's weekend, which falls on a Thursday and Friday.
Excellent! Armed with -- if that's not too militaristic a term for a peace ship -- a couple of briefings and a dream of a green and peaceful future, we were really looking forward to meeting the people of Bushehr. We were really looking forward to talking to the people and authorities about the massive opportunity for renewable energy in their country. Looking forward to sharing with them a new Greenpeace report showing how Iran could meet its energy needs, save some money, reduce its environmental impact and completely forget about using nuclear power.
But, it wasn't to be! The final piece of paper never came, the final signature was not penned.
Shame, I was really looking forward to the ten piece Bushehrie' Band who apparently play Middle Eastern bagpipes and were planning to play on the Rainbow. But, if I'm honest - and they'll confiscate my shortbread and tartan trews (trousers) for saying this - its along way to come to listen to someone strangle a cat!
We wanted to explain that nuclear power and nuclear weapons are inextricably linked. That the region needs to think, discuss and debate, together, whether it really wants to embrace more nuclear technology and all that entails. Or instead create and truly Nuclear free Middle East.
Since the 1950s, the industry has been peddling the myth of 'Atoms for Peace': it was a lie then and it's a lie now!
And, the reason is simple: enrichment technology or centrifuges are operated by a number of countries to produce enriched uranium for nuclear fuel, to generate electricity. Oh, but that's only 5% enriched, what happens if you leave the machine spinning for a little longer, the uranium comes out enriched to over 80% and good to go bang in a bomb. So when exactly do 'Atoms for Peace' become 'Atoms for War'?
Truth is: there is only one kind of atom, the kind that you can split and destroy cities with. The kind you can pay vast sums of money to split and then contain the massive explosion in concrete and steel so you can superheat water to turn a turbine. As a friend of mine likes to tell me, all too often, it's the most dangerous way ever invented to boil water.
But it isn't just a giant kettle, it generates vast amounts of radioactive waste that no one knows what to do with. Waste that will continue to threaten human life and the environment for more generations than you can count. It produces some of the most expensive electricity money can buy. Really, it is that absurd.
Every country in the Middle East is playing nuclear catch up. The proliferation of nuclear technology and the attendant spiralling fear and suspicion threaten to create a region in which the very technology needed for, and the building blocks of, nuclear weapons are on the brink of being widespread. Fear and suspicion do not easily subside; they will continue to spin in a vicious circle that will see this become a region in which nuclear neighbours hold each others' future hostage to an impending atomic Armageddon.
Better to stop now and embrace a peaceful future founded on renewable energy sources -- peaceful renewable energy sources -- energy efficiency and decentralised energy systems, as outlined in the new slightly boring but important Greenpeace commissioned report.
Yesterday, Sunday, at the time we'd planned to hold a press conference in the port of Bushehr, Greenpeace activists in Israel floated a banner calling for Nuclear Free Middle East, held aloft by two enormous 'balloon' peace doves. It was in front of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. It serves as a reminder that nuclear technology threatens the whole region; this isn't about just one country.
Nuclear weapons offer only the illusion of protection, in reality they are a provocation to proliferation. In the end their will be no 'haves' and 'have nots'. In the end either everybody will have them or no one will.
On one hand we have Mutually Assured Destruction with fear and loathing holding everything in check until the inevitable day that a mistake is made or the fragile balance of power tips, and then, well in a nuclear war there will be no winners, only losers.
On the other, we can build trust and understanding, negotiating away the technology and removing the military temptation and the need for suspicion. This would be a major contribution to peace and stability in the region and the world.
At the end of the day, with all of the military build up in the gulf, the sabre-rattling, the grey hulking aircraft carriers as high as tower blocks with a destructive potential beyond imagination it seems extra bizarre that one little peace ship all green and emblazoned with a dove and a rainbow seemed to cause so much concern.
But then they should be concerned. The thing is about the Rainbow Warrior is that it is not just a fair weather friend. The stormier the seas, the rougher the shores, the more resolute she becomes. More than once today, I've heard the crew say with a grin, 'We'll be back'.