Saturday, July 31, 2021

Nuclear Theddlethorpe 02

If the proposal to create a Deep Geological Facility (GDF) for high level nuclear waste at the former gas terminal at Theddlethorpe is to be opposed effectively then one must concentrate of arguments that will sway the opinions of Radioactive Waste Management, planning inspectors and politicians, locally and nationally.

Concerns about safety, however natural, heartfelt and understandable, are unlikely to influence decision makers because the industry will be able to assure government that the project can be completed safely.

Which leaves the two issues that could determine the future of the project:

1. the suitability of the site for a major industrial development, and

2. the suitability of the geology for a nuclear depository.

1. Industrial Development

The gas terminal was built on a greenfield site in a rural area on agricultural land with the assumption that, on decommissioning, it would be returned to its former state. It must, therefore, now be regarded as if the gas terminal had never existed, a greenfield site. In such an area, and lacking major road and any rail connection, the site would never normally be considered for a major industrial project. Such development would more likely be directed to a large brownfield site such as an ex-steelworks. Scunthorpe comes to mind as having a large redundant site with a railway running through it, nearby motorway links and a large, skilled potential labour force. I mention Scunthorpe as the underlying geology is similar to Theddlethorpe's. If any decision maker should balk at locating the facility in an urban area it might suggest that they do not have confidence in the safety of their project.

The scale of the project is, perhaps, under appreciated by many. It is doubtful whether the footprint of the Conoco gas terminal is large enough to accommodate the GDF and the timescale has not been much talked about. It would probably take more than a decade to develop the facility and then the work of emplacing waste might continue for a hundred years before it is finally sealed and the surface ground returned to its previous state.

2. Geology

Underlying a few metres of superficial marine and glacial deposits is some 200 metres of the Chalk. This is a very permeable rock, about as much use as a wet sponge for sealing nuclear waste. Below the Cretaceous rocks lies the Jurassic, of which the Ancholme Group is probably the rocks of interest. The objective would be to find a thick and homogenous layer of clay, sufficiently impervious to radionucleotide migration to prevent leakage for hundreds of thousands of years after the initial protection of the copper containment vessels has broken down after many millennia.

The Ancholme Group is a complex series of mostly clays but with sandstone and other more permeable horizons. A sufficiently thick clay layer needs to be found.
The Ampthill Clay Formation is the shallowest such layer and is just over 100 metres thick here. Below this lies the 20m thick West Walton Formation and below that the Oxford Clay Formation. This is the same layer as the Callovo-Oxfordian in which the French plan to deposit their high level nuclear waste in the CIGEO facility. But in our area the Oxford Clay is only about 30 metres thick.

The underlying Lias Group of the Lower Jurassic is a rather mixed bag of rocks and probably does not present a good location for nuclear waste disposal but below this in the Upper Triassic is the Mercia Mudstone Group. This is a sequence some 250 to 300 metres thick and may be the most likely location for a waste facility. (Some folk will recall the 1980s and Fulbeck site that targeted these rocks.)

That's a brief and sketchy summary of Theddlethorpe geology. For a much more detailed account, and the one that will be used as the introduction to the topic by decision makers, see the British Geological Survey's National Geological Screening:
Eastern England region, Minerals and Waste Programme, Commissioned Report CR/17/092

If the UK Government chooses a soft-rock Geological Disposal Facility, such as Theddlethorpe's geology allows, the closest exemplar is the French CIGEO facility but note that French law currently requires that the disposal remains potentially reversible, allowing the material to be retrieved by a future generation. This is in contrast to the approach in Finland where the policy is to seal the waste permanently. Theirs is a hard rock solution with the waste buried in caverns dug some 500 metres down into granite. 

In the UK we have not yet had the important debate about whether to adopt the French or the Finnish philosophy. They are fundamentally different. The choice is still to be made between soft rock, in which case Theddlethorpe is in the frame, and hard rock, where we have to turn to Cumbria, or better still, Scotland, for a site.

One further aspect, which has been acknowledged by Radioactive Waste Management, is that the sedimentary rocks of Lincolnshire contain hydrocarbons, oil and gas. While our current civilisation, wary of climate change, may choose to leave them in the ground, a future civilisation, say 1000 years hence, might be tempted to extract this valuable resource. Do we have an ethical duty to keep it free from nuclear contamination?

Further reading: Deep Time Reckoning by Vincent Ialenti.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Nuclear Theddlethorpe 01

On Friday 23rd of July 2021 news was reported on the local BBC radio and TV stations that Lincolnshire County Council has been in discussion with the Government owned firm Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) about locating a deep Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) for high level nuclear waste at Theddlethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast. It is as yet unclear how far any talks have gone between RWM and Conservative Party councillors but Labour councillors and the local MP, Victoria Atkins, had not been informed.

To facilitate public discussion I set up a Facebook group, which within 48 hours had been joined by about 2000 people and had received comments from over 200. All of the comments appear to be hostile to the proposal.

The proposed location at Theddlethorpe is on the site of the former Conoco-Phillips gas terminal, where North Sea gas came ashore and, after some processing, fed into the gas pipeline grid. It closed a couple of years ago and the site mostly cleared, in compliance with the original planning consent requirement for reinstatement to agricultural land. Today an office block is about all that remains, so it should be regarded as a greenfield site in a rural setting, surrounded by a National Nature Reserve to one side and agricultural land to the other. It is not a brownfield site.

Theddlethorpe is poorly served by transport links; the nearest railways come to Cleethorpes, some 30 kilometres to the north and Skegness, a similar distance to the south. There are no motorways in Lincolnshire and not even a dual carriageway to the east of Lincoln, almost 50 km away.

In common with some other coastal towns, nearby Mablethorpe is an area of considerable social deprivation and a major industrial investment in the area will bring some jobs and economic prosperity to the area. This must surely weigh on the minds of local councillors and may have led to the discussions, but no information has been released as yet.

There is an undoubted need for the ultimate disposal of high level nuclear waste, somewhere, and we do need to find the least bad place to put what we have created. The question is where. Understandably, many people are fearful of having a nuclear dump near their homes and are concerned about accidents, leaks and the risks to health from radioactive contamination. Personally, I'm not so worried about this. The purpose of a deep geological repository is to keep the waste away from people for tens of thousands of years, effectively forever, immune to sea level rise, to earthquakes and future glaciations and to the passing and re-emergence of civilisations. Once completed the repository can be forgotten about, lost from human consciousness. 

Since creating the repository must not create any radiological hazard there is no reason why it should be located in a remote area with a low populations density. A rural location has little advantage over an urban site. The overriding factor must be the geological suitability. When that has been determined other factors that affect any large scale industrial development come into play. Preference should be given to brownfield sites with good transport infrastructure links. A place such as the steelworks at Scunthorpe comes to mind. Acres of abandoned industrial land with a railway running through the site, excellent road links and a large local pool of skilled labour. 

We should allay our fears about radiation and concentrate on the factors that will determine any planning inquiry. Is Theddlethorpe a suitable location for a major industrial development with activity lasting decades?

But the overriding factor must be the geological suitability. 

And before going further I suggest reading Michael Stodhard's piece in the Financial Times from five years ago.

And watch the Michael Madsen's 2010 film about the Onkalo in Finland, Into Eternity.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Hawkmoth Emergence

You've heard of the Butterfly Effect, in which a small change in initial conditions causes big changes further down the line. Now we are witnessing the emergence of its lesser known and much darker cousin, the Hawkmoth Effect. The recent extreme weather events around the world, particularly the western Americas 'heat dome' and floods in Germany and Belgium, have prompted many people to comment that this weather was more extreme than expected from their interpretation of the climate models' outputs.

"We need to better model nonlinear events.” said Dieter Gerten, professor of global change climatology and hydrology at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, looking at the German flooding.

Former Met Office chief scientist Prof Dame Julia Slingo told BBC News: "We should be alarmed because the IPCC models are just not good enough. We need an international centre to deliver the quantum leap to climate models that capture the fundamental physics that drive extremes. Unless we do that we will continue to underestimate the intensity/frequency of extremes and the increasingly unprecedented nature of them."

Julia Slingo calls, very properly, for vastly greater spending on climate modelling. But shear computing power is not enough by itself. Wisdom is required too.

The Hawkmoth Effect is a phenomenon described by Erica Thompson thus:

The Butterfly Effect is well-known as the sensitivity to initial conditions displayed by some dynamical systems, meaning that a small perturbation to initial conditions can result in a large change to the state of the system after some length of time (dynamical instability).

The Hawkmoth Effect, by analogy, is the sensitivity to structural model formulation, meaning that a small perturbation to the system itself can result in a large change to the state of the system after some length of time (structural instability).

Essential further reading for all who use computer models, whether they be climate models or in other fields, is the paper by Erica Thompson and Leonard Smith 'Escape from Model Land'.

A couple of weeks ago a seminar was held, now available to view on YouTube. Hosted by The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA), it comprised a presentation by Dr Anthony Hodgson, entitled 'Systems Thinking and Tragedy of Consciousness', and discussion with Erica Thompson and Nico Aspinall of B&CE, with introduction by Tan Suee Chieh of IFoA.

Perhaps only watched by a few hundred people, this seminar occupies a small niche in the vastness of human discourse, but it is the sort of thinking presented here that may prove invaluable as we try to mitigate against and adapt to the unfolding climate crisis.

It is worth watching.

And if you came here looking to read about the other sort of Hawkmoth, well, sorry, but this is a good moment to join the very excellent Butterfly Conservation. It's all connected.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Worst news since the Ice Age

Southeast Amazonia is no longer a carbon sink

"Atmospheric measurements show that deforestation and rapid local warming have reduced or eliminated the capacity of the eastern Amazonian forest to absorb carbon dioxide — with worrying implications for future global warming."

That's the heading to Scott Denning's article in Nature about the paper by Luciana V. Gatti et al. also in Nature (though this may be behind a paywall for you).

Other summaries are available from the Guardian, The New York Times, iNews and elsewhere.

Many folk have assumed that the vast tropical rainforests absorb at least some of our carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels but the latest research confirms what some have suspected, that we have damaged some areas of forest so much that they have become carbon emitters instead of sinks.

The IPCC emission scenarios have been widely criticised but the results from this Amazonia study keeps the outcome of the RCP8.5 forcing a possibility.

That may be the worst news humanity has received since the Last Ice Age. It's that bad.

 Carbon fluxes in different Amazonian regions. From 2010 to 2018, Gatti et al.2 measured vertical profiles of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide above four regions in Amazonia (the two locations shown in northwestern Amazonia were counted as one region), and thereby calculated regional carbon fluxes upwind of each site, measured in grams of carbon per square metre per day. In the bar charts, net biome exchange (NBE) represents the average annual balance of CO2 absorbed by forests for photosynthesis compared with the amount of CO2 produced by the decay of organic matter (negative NBE values indicate that the forest acts as a carbon sink); ‘fire’ represents the average carbon emissions produced by fires; and ‘total’ represents the sum of NBE and fire emissions. The NBE values indicate that most regions of Amazonia are weak carbon sinks, but southeastern Amazonia is actually a carbon source.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Coronavirus 56 Two Herd Immunities

Herd immunity occurs when a sufficiently large proportion of the population are immune to infection that the R number is well below 1, the virus finding it hard to find a new vulnerable person. The epidemic then dies out.

Herd immunity is achieved by either vaccination or by people catching the disease and recovering, their immunity improved. The advantage of immunity by vaccination is that one does not become ill. The whole point of the vaccination programme is to create herd immunity without people becoming ill. To be successful most of the population needs to be vaccinated, and that includes children.

The UK Government has adopted a hybrid policy, vaccinating a large proportion of only the adult population and allowing the infection to spread amongst the unvaccinated. This has been the policy from the outset, with the rate of disease spread managed to 'flatten the curve' and 'save the NHS' but minimising death and disease has never been the priority. The zero covid strategy of suppression and elimination, adopted by many nations, particularly in the eastern hemisphere, has never been accepted by the UK Government.

The relaxation of covid measures, announced yesterday and coming into effect on the 19th of July, confirms that the Government are relying on herd immunity created, at least in part, from people catching the disease and recovering with immunity.

The difference between herd immunity by vaccination and herd immunity by infection is the morbidity and mortality rates. The inevitable outcome of the Government's policy is more death and disease. It will reduce the health of the nation.

The Government's approach is criminal.

It is tremendously important to listen to the doctors and scientists. Following the Government's announcement an emergency press conference was held. I commend it:

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Coronavirus 55 Two Approaches

Approach 1

Zero Covid: Suppression, Elimination, Eradication.

Understand that if nobody goes near anybody else the virus dies out in a very few weeks. For a modern society to survive some people have to meet, to work in, for example, the health services, energy, farming and food and telecommunications industries. Recognition that SARS-CoV-2 is essentially an airborne spread virus, personal protection, distancing, ventilation,
 hygiene, and the rest minimises transmission amongst these whose work is life-critical to society. Testing finds those who are infected, isolation with sufficient support prevents further community transmission. Minimising travel into an area and effective quarantining of those that must travel stops community re-infection.

This approach is led by governments putting minimising deaths as the top priority over everything else.

Examples with their covid deaths per million population.

Laos 0.4
Vietnam 0.9
China 3
New Zealand 5
Singapore 6

Approach 2

'Herd Immunity'

Assume that the virus cannot be stopped, will have to be 'lived with' and accept that a great many people will die and a vastly greater number will suffer long-term and even permanent ill health. ("Take it on the chin; let the bodies pile high" in Mr Johnson's words.)

A minimum of restrictions are applied, not to suppress and eliminate the virus but to manage the spread of the disease such that the health services are not totally overwhelmed. 'Flattening the curve'. Vaccination is used as a tool, almost of first resort, for the more vulnerable sections of the population while leaving children to catch the disease and develop natural immunity, at least in those who survive.

This approach is led by governments with a laissez-faire attitude, putting  popularism ahead of leadership that informs its population about scientific understanding with honesty and integrity. 

Examples, again with covid deaths per million population:

USA 1866
UK 1879
Brazil 2446
Hungary 3113
Peru 5775

Several of th
e poorest performing countries have suffered a thousand times worse than several of the best. It's not about political system, or size, or wealth, or physical geography. Success has been about governments that put lives first, and governments whose populations trust them to act for the common good. 

We in the UK are now at a critical moment, the government intent on relaxing restrictions further and, having raised public expectation by promising to do so, have left themselves, deliberately it seems, with little room for political manoeuvre. New cases are rising exponentially, doubling about every nine days.  There is no plan for children to be vaccinated. The case tracing and isolating system is still dysfunctional. Long-covid is consistently ignored by government despite affecting a significant proportion of young people, and with unknown consequences for lives in the long term.

Thanks to the vaccine, infection fatality rate is a small fraction of that experienced earlier in the pandemic, but most of the world's population remain unvaccinated, as do younger adults and children in the UK. Every new case is a further opportunity for the vaccine to mutate to a variant that escapes the vaccine, jeopardising progress made to date.

Until R approaches zero and there is no community prevalence, restrictions should remain; the more effective the restrictions the quicker the pandemic will be over. Perversely, the UK government seems determined to prolong the pandemic, using our children to pursue their despicable so-called 'herd immunity' policy.

Numbers from Worldometers 04/07/2021

The data displayed on these graphs are not what should be described as 'very promising'.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Coronavirus 54 Public Opinion

Data not dates may have been the quiet mantra but it was just the sub-text below the headline of 21st June 'Freedom Day'. Many chose to embrace the headline, not reading further, expectations trumping experience.

The Government gambled on continued decline in Covid prevalence and failed to adopt the policies that would have ensured success. Now it faces a new wave of the disease but has lost the support of large sections of the public.

This was predictable and predicted, the notion of a 'road-map' out of restrictions being based on wishful thinking rather than science, pandering to political popularism instead instead of adopting political leadership. It was a set up bound to fail.

The immediate problem that results is the degree of anger in substantial sections of the public. We have already seen some ugly demonstrations on the part of those who do not accept the consensus position on the pandemic and how to deal with it. We now see the attitudes of the conspiracy theorists spilling over into a wider rejection of covid restrictions.

There is a real possibility of civil unrest. It is of course absurd to think that this was a deliberate intention of the Government but it certainly represents unprecedented incompetence. Good governance requires the support of the people; the loss of trust leads to unpredictable territory.

The exponent in the exponential growth has increased.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Coronavirus 53 Now It's Deliberate

Now that we've heard Mr Cummings confirm much of what we suspected about the catastrophic mishandling on the pandemic during 2020 one might think the errors are in the past and we are now doing things better.

Not true.

The UK Government has still not embraced the only rational way to minimise harm, a Zero-Covid approach that aims to eliminate the virus. Instead, though it's not explicitly admitted, the mythical 'herd-immunity' is still being pursued.

Our borders are porous; there is very little effective effort being made to stop reinfection from abroad. We still have no effective Find - Track - Trace - Isolate - Support system in place. There has been no serious effort made to improve ventilation in schools and now we even have the lifting of obligatory mask wearing in secondary schools. Data is not being shared. Hospitality and entertainment is opening up and strangers are meeting indoors in ever greater numbers. Further restriction lifting is planned.

The undeniable conclusion is that the Government is allowing the virus to spread, just trying to manage the rate of spread such that the hospitals are not overwhelmed, but not minimising death and disease. That has been the strategy from the start, exemplified by the phrases 'protect the NHS' and 'flatten the curve'. Elimination of the virus has never been the priority in the UK, though such a strategy has been shown to work elsewhere.

This is the paper the paper that must be required reading for all policy developers:

SARS-CoV-2 elimination, not mitigation, creates best outcomes for health, the economy, and civil liberties
Miquel Oliu-Barton Bary S R Pradelski Philippe Aghion Patrick Artus Ilona Kickbusch Jeffrey V Lazarus et al.

Case numbers, and the inevitable almost 1% death rate and ~10% long-covid that will result, are once again increasing; we are starting exponential growth again. There is much talk about the mistakes and errors made a year ago but we must not be distracted from what is happening right now. The same thinking is leading to the same errors and consequently more avoidable deaths and disease. The difference this time is that ignorance can not be used as the excuse. This time it is deliberate.

The SARS-Cov-2 outbreak in the UK is today spreading exponentially, the result of deliberate Government policy.

But don't take my word for it, listen to the experts.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

G7 Climate Deceit

Six years ago I wrote this piece about the atmospheric CO2 concentration reaching 404 ppmv. Since then the numbers have risen by over 2 ppm each year, topping out at just shy of 220 this year.

Looking carefully at the noisy data one might just discern a slight slowdown in the rate of increase during this covid impacted year but the rise has again been over 2 ppmv. Methane and nitrous oxide have also risen, faster than ever.
Despite all the talk and all the efforts, humanity has utterly failed to combat global heating. We are still making the situation worse. The best we can admit is that we could have made things even worse.
Yesterday the G7 countries' leaders, from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and USA, published their 'G7 Climate and Environment: Ministers’ Communiqué'.
They say "We will help set the world on a nature positive and climate-resilient pathway to bend the curve of biodiversity loss by 2030 and to keep a limit of 1.5°C temperature rise within reach by making our 2030 ambitions consistent with the aim of achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible and by 2050 at the latest."
A limit of 1.5°C temperature rise by achieving net zero emissions by 2050? No, that is wanting one's cake and eating it. It is delusional, the new form of climate denialism, a deceit upon the world's people.
1.5°C limit stands now at the very edge of physical possibility, outside of political reality and impossible if emissions are allowed to decline gently to the so-called 'net' zero by 2050.
Why did the Environment Ministers make the statement? Because they can. It shows willing to address the problem without actually dealing with the problem. It sets a target far enough into the future to ensure it will be somebody else's problem when that target is missed.
But it is a deceit. 

G7 UK Presidency 2021 Logo

Mind you, they have some nice sea-side inspired graphics on the website.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Coronavirus 52 The Reckoning

The UK Government has announced there will be an inquiry into its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, but not for another year.

Lord make me good, but not just yet.

Meanwhile, never mind the Prime Minister's Covid Inquiry, kicked down the road and into the long grass, let's start here: The Independent Panel for Preparedness and Response, have been holding the inquiry ordered by the World Health Organisation last summer, and have now published their report, Covid-19 Make it the Last Pandemic.

The British media have largely ignored the launch of this report*. It is, or at least should be, deeply embarrassing to the UK, and other, governments.

For those reluctant to read the lengthy report, here is an excellent video introduction to the Inquiry and a summary of its findings and recommendations, presented by the leaders of the Panel.

As a follow-up to that introduction, here is the Press Conference of the report launch.

The report not only explores what happened and what should have happened, but makes urgent demands for what should be done, now, to halt the current pandemic, and in the future to ensure that this is the last pandemic.

That's all you need from me so watch, listen, read and tell the world about what The Independent Panel tells us.

*The Guardian (other newspapers are available) has a couple of pieces:

Sarah Boseley's report.

Helen Clark and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's summary of their report. 

As I write this, there is no mention of the report on the BBC News website's 'Coronavirus' page, and I have heard no mention on the Radio 4 news bulletins.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Elections 2021.

The abused voted to support their abuser.

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response whereby abuse victims bond with their abusers. This psychological connection develops over the course of years of abuse. A large part of the English population have developed the condition.

A classic abuser tactic is to create external enemies that explain away any bad experience, and from which the abuser protects the abused, thus reinforcing the dependency.

Over many years the EU was held to be the source of many of our woes, the politicians' lies repeated by their compliant media. Xenophobia was stoked with threats of immigration; leave voters gave succour and support to the racists.

By the time of the referendum the fishermen, farmers, and business folk dependent on foreign trade, had been locked into their Stockholm syndrome state, impervious to rational argument, convinced by what they read in their newspapers that the politicians had their best interests at heart.

Covid provided the coup de grace.

The pandemic was entirely avoidable but the British public were told that the government would protect them. Unlike the experience of several 
Eastern Hemisphere countries, diverse in geography and politics, where a zero covid policy was enacted from the start, resulting in few deaths, the UK Government's approach resulted in some 150,000 deaths and immeasurable suffering.

Just in time for the May 6th elections, the Government delivered what the people wanted to hear: a promise of freedom. Covid restrictions were being lifted and some semblance of normality was being restored. This, they were told, was the gift of good governance. The vaccination programme was another gift, but even this was not the triumph it was portrayed as. The vaccine was no 'miracle' but just what scientists do when given the resources to do their work, and the roll out was not exactly rocket-science. (Bhutan vaccinated it's entire adult population in one week.)

All the while the government were able to transmit what was effectively a Party Political Broadcast every day it wanted under the guise of the 'covid briefing', to leave no doubt who was the protector and benefactor. 

The parallel between the behaviour described by psychiatrists of abuse victims and the condition of the English public was exemplified by the Hartlepool resident who said he voted Tory because there were now nine food banks but under Labour there were none. Rationality is dispensed with, the victim defends the abuser.

The abused English public dutifully trooped to the ballot box (or, more often than not, didn't bother to vote at all).

And all the while around the world the pandemic rages more than ever, each new case an opportunity for viral mutation, and the UK's decision to leave the EU the source of bemusement and ridicule by all who retain their sanity.

Sunday, March 28, 2021


Warning: controversial ideas to make one think.

All sorts of people are up in arms (metaphorically, at least for now) about the treatment of the Uyghurs by the Chinese government.

Of course there is a lot of history, several thousand years’ worth, and if you want an introduction Wikipedia is as good place to start at as any. It’s complicated. But what is clear today is that the Peoples Republic of China regards the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region as very much part of China and anybody who calls for independence, such as The Turkistan Islamic Party, is regarded as a ‘terrorist’ and ‘separatist’. (The UN Security Council has also listed them as a terrorist organisation.)

A great deal has been written, by Western commentators and politicians, about the wrongs that the Chinese government has been doing to the Uyghurs. Some have used the word ‘genocide’ to describe the actions. We should be cautious in that respect. It would be unfortunate if the G-word were to become devalued. Genocide is what some German Christians did to many German Jews and events in Cambodia and Ruanda may also fit the bill. The current situation is not so clear and certainly nobody is alleging that thousands of people have been killed. The UN definition does include some features that might, arguably, apply.

But let’s look from another viewpoint. The Chinese government like to stress their desire for a harmonious society, with everybody working for the common good. This, of course, is an attitude deeply embedded in Chinese culture going back millennia to Confucius and before, not an invention of the communists. Troublesome Islamists exploding bombs to further their cause of setting up an Islamic state does not fit easily with the notion of harmony in the Peoples Republic.

Importantly, and this is really my main point, the Chinese have seen how Islamists have been dealt with in other places. The Chechen Wars of the 1990s and early 2000s were disastrous for all concerned, Russians and indigenous people alike, and the resulting Islamic state must be an outcome the Chinese government are keen to avoid. The Western approach in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere must make any admonition by European and American politicians ring hollow. The tragedy of sub-Saharan Africa, from Somalia to Nigeria and now south to Mozambique, is a series of object lessons in how not to deal with the rise of Islamism. The seemingly never ending conflict between Jews and Muslims, with sporadic interventions of Christians down the centuries, is another reminder that allowing religion to get involved with governance does not always make for a harmonious society. 

Is it any wonder then, that the Chinese are attempting a different approach, which while it may involve dealing harshly with the more recalcitrant people, stops a long way short of dropping bombs from great heights, a tactic that has been used all too often by the UK and the USA?





Monday, March 08, 2021

Coronavirus 51 Optimism or Pessimism?

In January 2016, at Oxgangs Primary School, Edinburgh, several tons of masonry collapsed from a wall onto an area where children sometimes walked. Nobody was there at the time, nobody was hurt, but the failure caused quite a fuss and 17 other schools were closed until their safety was assured. We have a zero tolerance approach to children being killed or injured by school roofs and walls falling down.

Today, all English school children must return to their classrooms. Many will be kept in crowded rooms with limited ventilation. It is generally accepted that transmission of the virus will increase. That will inevitably lead to more deaths and many more cases of long covid, the long term consequences of which we are yet to learn. But we seem to have got used to that. I just heard someone on the radio saying the upward spike in cases will be 'tolerable'. We are doing what our prime minister, Mr Johnson, told us: we may have to "take it on the chin".

A year ago the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced a zero tolerance approach to deaths from SARS-CoV-2. Several other countries, particularly in the eastern hemisphere, with different political systems and geographical and social settings, adopted similar positions. The results have been clear.

Today, as children go back to school, our government embarks on a deadly experiment. In weeks and months to come we will be able to see who amongst us succumbed. Today we balance optimism with pessimism. And that thought is the theme of this important thread of tweets from Professor Christina Pagel, 

Christina Pagel is Director of Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London, "applying operational research and mathematics to problems in health care". For much of the last year she has been presenting the pandemic data at the weekly briefings of Independent SAGE.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Coronavirus 50 Zero Covid

It's just over a year since I started writing this series of thoughts about the pandemic, a year during which the UK has suffered about 130,000 deaths, almost all of which would have been avoided had the government followed the advice of scientists (and me). Beyond the deaths and their associated tragic consequences, there is the as yet unknown consequence of Long Covid.

The failure to close borders in February 2020, to lockdown as soon as there was any community transmission, and the continuing failure to track, trace, find, isolate and support every case and their contacts ensured disaster.

There was a turning point last summer when the outbreak could have been suppressed but the first lockdown was ended too soon and the murderous 'eat out to help out' was introduced, producing a mindset amongst politicians and the public that ensured the inevitability of a second, more deadly wave. Again the advice of scientists were ignored and children and students were sent back to their schools and universities. 

And here we are, watching the government repeating the same mistakes all over again. Yesterday, Saturday 13th of February 2020, my day started with listening to David Davies MP talking on the radio saying that we must learn to live with Covid. During the day it transpired that this was not just the idle talk of a backbencher with little influence, as Health Secretary Mr Hancock and then Prime Minister Mr Johnson repeated the message. This was a coordinated effort to sell the new Government mantra 'Learn to Live with Covid'. And they repeated the long debunked notion that we could live with Covid "as we do with flu". This morning the top BBC News headline reads  "Covid: Remove all lockdown laws by May, Tory MP group demands".

If this way of thinking is not changed then, one day, Saturday 13th of February 2020 will be seen to be another turning point; a moment when the government had the opportunity to choose a strategy of suppression and elimination leading to Zero Covid, but instead chose the other path, the path of continuing catastrophe with untold death and disease through an indefinite future.

Having survived a year of mismanaging the pandemic without the public demanding their removal, the government perhaps thinks they can weather the third wave of disease, this being easier than standing up to the anti-science rhetoric coming from Tory backbenchers and some sections of the public that have been misled.

Prevalence of the virus is still high, lockdown is half-hearted, test-track-trace-find-isolate-support is ineffective, borders are leaky, partial vaccination of the population, while offering some protection to some, produces an environment that increases the selection pressure for mutation, adjusting vaccines to new variants will be a perpetual arms race with a time lag of months, and people are booking summer holidays.

SARS-CoV-2 is not like flu. It can be suppressed and eliminated. We chose not to 'live with' polio and small-pox. We can choose not to live with Covid. Measles is a better comparison than flu to keep in mind, suppressed with vigilance and vaccination, the occasional flare-ups dealt with so that it is no longer a mass killer to be feared. But the phrase 'nobody is safe till everybody is safe' is good. Vaccinating Africans is as important and urgent as vaccinating Europeans.

The whole world, not just countries in the eastern hemisphere where daily life continues almost as normal, needs a Zero Covid strategy. Those who oppose this approach are responsible for the avoidable deaths so far and will be responsible for future deaths.

Join the ZER0 COVID campaign.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Coronavirus 49 My MP 2

In my previous blog post here, I published my recent correspondence with my MP, Victoria Atkins, or at least with someone in her office. I have received a letter in the post, signed by Ms Atkins herself, including a letter from Nadhim Zahawi MP, Minister for Business and Industry and Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment.

Neither her nor his letter addresses, at all, the point I raised: the breaking of a contract implied by the signing of a vaccination consent form by a member of my family last December. 

It's worth reading the whole correspondence to understand and make sense (if sense there be) of the process. The important thing to note is that my letter was not concerned with the question of whether the spacing of doses should be three weeks or six from a public health benefit point of view. It was just about the legality, or otherwise, of changing the procedure that had been agreed with my relative and the rather small number of other people who were in a similar situation when the policy changed.

The content of my letter has been totally ignored, both by Ms Atkins and Mr Zahawi. They both addressed a different matter. I had asked that Ms Atkins took my concern to Mr Hancock, the Secretary of State, and, as you will have seen from my correspondence, she eventually promised so to do. But it appears that she didn't. Hence the letter from Mr Zahawi instead.

The question arises did Ms Atkins deliberately avoid the issue I raised, and divert to an easier topic in the hope that I would go away and stop irritating her, or did she, her staff and Mr Zahawi, all just not read my letter, glancing at the content and jumping to the wrong conclusion as to what it was about. Was it conspiracy or cock-up?

Either way, it begs the question what is the point of writing to one's MP, or even having a constituency MP at all.

Anyway, here are the letters from Ms Atkins and Mr Zahawi and then my reply to Ms Atkins and her office staff person, Mr Reid:

Dear Ms Atkins and Mr Reid,

Thank you for your letter of the 29th January.

When I wrote to you, Ms Atkins, on the 1st of January I described the position of a family member, a doctor. I wrote “When a consent form is signed, a legal contract is entered. This contract has now been broken, unilaterally, by the Government.”

I asked you to “Please represent my concern to the Minister, Mr Hancock, today and do your best to ensure that the Government honours its contract.”

At no point did I raise the question of the wisdom of the interval between Covid vaccination doses; my concern was restricted to the breaking of a contract.

In our ensuing correspondence, Mr Reid, I repeated that my concern was on the narrow point concerning the contract, and was therefore a matter for Mr Hancock. On the 15th of January you wrote to me assuring that … ”As requested Victoria will also write to the Secretary of State about this matter”.

I was therefore disappointed by the content of your letter, Ms Atkins, as it made no reference to the matter about which I had written to you.

On the 22nd January, Mr Reid, you wrote “As soon as we do get a response, Victoria will pass this on to you.” No response from Mr Hancock has been forthcoming.

Instead you have forwarded to me a letter from Mr Zahawi, who wrote “I understand Mr Vernon’s concerns”. 

There is no evidence that Mr Zahawi has even been informed of my concerns, let alone understands them, since there is no reference within his lengthy letter to my concerns. His letter is entirely about a different, if tangential, subject.

Let us, therefore start again, with the matter that I wrote to you, urgently, on the 1st of January. My family member, a hospital doctor wrote:

"I received my first dose yesterday, booster (was?) booked in ~3 weeks. Didn’t count on being thrown into an unregistered trial without evidence or medical oversight. Nor did I consent to receiving an off-label drug with no evidence of benefit from one dose. Of course the government were going to cock this up, predictable delays/lost data etc...but I didn’t expect them to overrule the license for political expediency."

Let me emphasise yet again, my concern is not over the public health benefits of different vaccination intervals, but only about the narrow issue of consent to a medical procedure being a contract between the patient and the provider, in this case my relative and the NHS, and that this contract was broken at the behest of the Secretary of State.

I asked “Please represent my concern to the Minister, Mr Hancock, today and do your best to ensure that the Government honours its contract.”

The contract was broken. Your delay in representing my concern and the consequent lack of action from the Secretary of State have seen to that. Will you now ask Mr Hancock to acknowledge that he broke a contract with my relative and provide us with assurance that government contracts will in future be honoured rather than broken.

Trust in one's constituency MP is built upon, amongst other things, their ability and willingness to read the contents of a constituent's letter and act on its contents, rather than address some other matter.

Trust in government is a precious thing, easily destroyed and hard to rebuild.

Yours sincerely

Biff Vernon

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Coronavirus 48 My MP

I started the year writing to my MP:

Friday 1 January 2021

Dear Victoria Atkins,

I write to you on a matter of extreme urgency and would appreciate an immediate response.

Last night a member of my family, wrote to me thus:

"I received my first dose yesterday, booster (was?) booked in ~3 weeks.
Didn’t count on being thrown in to an unregistered trial without
evidence or medical oversight. Nor did I consent to receiving an
off-label drug with no evidence of benefit from one dose.
Of course the government were going to cock this up, predictable
delays/lost data etc...but I didn’t expect them to overrule the license
for political expediency."

He is a hospital doctor, an anaesthetist, who works in intensive care.
His work is keeping covid patients alive. His responsibility is to
keep himself informed of the medical science that relates to his work.

When a consent form is signed, a legal contract is entered. This
contract has now been broken, unilaterally, by the Government.

Please represent my concern to the Minister, Mr Hancock, today and do
your best to ensure that the Government honours its contract.

I await your prompt action and look forward to your response.

Now I know there is debate about whether changing the vaccination protocol from 3 to 12 weeks for the 2nd dose is a good idea in terms of lives saved, but that is not the subject of my letter. My concern was here limited to the narrow issue of the contract between patient and the NHS created by the consent form. Anyway, on the 4th of January I received this reply to my 'urgent' email of the 1st, not from Ms Atkins but from one Christopher Reid, who signs himself 'Senior Caseworker, Office of Victoria Atkins'

Christopher Reid <>
Jan 4, 2021, 11:39 AM

Dear Mr Vernon,
Thank you for taking the time to contact Victoria Atkins MP about the coronavirus vaccine.
With your permission, could we instead suggest that Victoria contact Nadhim Zahawi MP, Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment, on your behalf, and ask them to look into this for you.
To assist with this, could we ask if we could please share your email with them?
We look forward to hearing from you.
Yours Sincerely,
Christopher Reid


I replied the same day thus:

Dear Mr Reid,
You may share my e-mail address with whosoever you see fit, but since my question was essentially legal in nature, concerning a broken contract, I did expect Ms Atkins would have the competency to deal with the matter herself, directly.
I look forward to hearing from her..


And he replied:
Dear Mr Vernon,
Thank you for your response.
Apologies but I meant the contents of your email rather than the email address, is that still okay?
MPs are unable to give legal advice, so Victoria would not really be able to comment on the legal validity of a contract.
As soon as we hear back from the Minister we will of course let you know.

I replied again:

Dear Mr Reid
Yes, you may share the contents too. There wouldn't be much point in just sharing the address!
No, I was not looking for legal advice. As I wrote, my question was essentially legal in nature, concerning a broken contract, and therefore within the competence of Ms Atkins to act upon. I am sure that she can see that a contract exists between anyone giving consent to a particular medical procedure, in this case my family member, and the Health Service acting on behalf of the Government.
Last Friday I wrote: Please represent my concern to the Minister, Mr Hancock, today and do your best to ensure that the Government honours its contract.
That request still stands and I look forward to hearing from Ms Atkins whether she has managed to obtain the assurance of the Minister that the contract will be honoured, rather than broken.


He replied the next morning, the 5th of January:

Dear Mr Vernon,
Thank you for your response.
Just to clarify, we were suggesting Victoria raise this with the Minister responsible for the vaccine rollout, Nadhim Zahawi, rather than the Secretary of State as the likelihood is all that would do would be delay getting a response, as it would have to be passed to the responsible minister anyway.
As soon as we hear back, we will of course let you know.
Yours Sincerely,
Christopher Reid

Dear Mr Reid,

It has been 10 days since you wrote "...  we will of course let you know"  but I have not heard from you. I remind you that it was on the 1st of January that I wrote to Ms Atkins, "on a matter of extreme urgency". I asked her to  "represent my concern to the Minister, Mr Hancock, today and do your best to ensure that the Government honours its contract."

I am disappointed that Ms Atkins appears not to have done this and that she and you appear to have misconstrued my request and decided to approach a different minister. The lack of adequate response calls into question the work of an MP in their relationship with a constituent.

You will, no doubt, be aware that Joan Bakewell, the former government appointed 'Voice of Older People', has instructed her lawyers to write to Mr Hancock. Her concern is the same as mine. Her letter outlines three potential grounds for a judicial review into the vaccination policy, which she sets out thus:

"Breach of the conditions of authorisation: the NHS Letter instructed health care professionals to act in a manner that appears to be contrary to the instructions for use that had been agreed between the MHRA and Pfizer.
Unlawful to depart from MHRA’s assessment: the evidence in granting temporary approval to the vaccine was sufficient in establishing effectiveness for 21 days (or at most 28 days). The MHRA is the body designated by law to determine such issues and it does not appear there was a proper or lawful basis for the government to depart from its assessment.  
Breach of legitimate expectations: it was clear from published documents and publicly made statements that the second dose would be administered 21 days after the first dose. Patients consented to a course of medical treatment on that understanding. The instruction contained in the NHS Letter breached these expectations and undermined their informed consent to the first dose."

I repeat what I wrote two weeks ago:  "Please represent my concern to the Minister, Mr Hancock, today and do your best to ensure that the Government honours its contract." Unfortunately, since it is two weeks since I raised the matter, there is now no possibility that the contract will be honoured, but at least the failure so to do can be mitigated by prompt action now.

I await your prompt action and look forward to your response.  

Of course if and when I hear back from 'The office of Victoria Atkins' I will post more.

Meanwhile, people may like to support Joan Bakewell:

Article from Independent.

Update, a few hours after sharing on the social media:

15/01/2021 9.09:AM
Dear Mr Vernon, 

Thank you for your response. 

We have not yet heard back from the Minister about this matter, however we know the Department is receiving a lot of correspondence at the moment so please understand it will be a matter of weeks rather than days before they respond. 

As requested Victoria will also write to the Secretary of State about this matter. 

Yours Sincerely,
Christopher Reid
Senior Caseworker
Office of Victoria Atkins 
Member of Parliament for Louth & Horncastle
Parliamentary Under Secretary for Safeguarding 
Update 2, a week later. 10.26pm 21/01/2021
Dear Mr Reid
Another week has gone by and I have heard nothing from you or from Ms Atkins.
Why is this?  
You wrote "Victoria will also write to the Secretary of State about this matter."
Has Mr Hancock replied to her?

9:10 AM 22/01/2021
Dear Mr Vernon, 

Thank you for your response. 

Yes, Victoria wrote to the Secretary of State on Friday. 

As we said before, the Department is receiving a lot of correspondence at the moment so please understand it will be a matter of weeks rather than days before they respond. 

As soon as we do get a response, Victoria will pass this on to you.

Yours Sincerely,
Christopher Reid
So I wrote back again....  7.47pm 22/01/2021

Dear Mr Reid.

That the Department for Health receives a lot of correspondence is hardly surprising but is not my concern. Doubtless the Secretary of State has the power to hire sufficient staff to deal with his department's workload.
That the Secretary of State will not deal promptly with urgent correspondence from a minister at the Home Office is something that is beyond my understanding.
I remind you that I made my urgent request to Ms Atkins on the 1st of January. It is now the 22nd. I expect better.

Yours sincerely

My correspondence with my MP, or at least with someone in her office, has focussed on the narrow point of the breaking of a contract created when a member of my family signed a consent form for a medical treatment that involved two injections three weeks apart.
It is, however, interesting to note the increasing attention being given to doctors' misgivings.
Here are three pieces in this morning's news:
World Health Organisation
BBC News