An astonishing film recalls how the Ministry of Defence ran a nerve gas production project in North Cornwall for twenty years.

Nancekuke Plant was set up after the War, despite concerns in Whitehall that it might flout the terms of the Geneva Convention.

Scientists at the plant unlocked the secrets of Nazi poison gas Zyklon B, processed deadly Sarin, and designed CS, or ‘tear’ gas – which the UK Govt sold worldwide.

The plant was built in 1950 and dismantled in 1977. It was sited above a labyrinth of cliff-top mine-shafts between Porthtowan and Portreath.

By the time Nancekuke was outlawed, in 1975, it had earned itself a deadly reputation.

In its long history the Cornish site was:

  • Used to mass produce CS gas for sale to repressive regimes across the globe
  • Responsible for Sarin accidents that left at least two workers with lifelong illnesses.
  • The source of A30 convoys of active nerve gas samples to Porton Down
  • Temporarily leased to ICI – who promptly made a pesticide so toxic it had to be withdrawn after two years

    Between 1950 and 1969, forty-one men working at the plant died: some whilst employed, and some after leaving

    The MOD claim staff turnover over the 19 years means that’s in fact a low figure.

    But since the site closed, evidence has emerged Whitehall knew of risks they kept secret from Ministers and the public.

    The Nancekuke site today

    One report stated outright that the plant was best sited in Cornwall – to divert the nerve gas threat from towns nearer Porton Down, like Bournemouth.

    But this observation was edited out of ministerial correspondence, and the unedited original kept under lock and key under the terms of the Official Secrets Act.

    Meanwhile there’s ongoing speculation about what chemical waste may have been buried on the site.

    After the final batch of nerve gas left the plant in May 1977, mustard gas was incinerated, and metal used manufacturing Sarin buried, or dropped down disused mineshafts.

    You can watch the whole documentary HERE. (You just have to click through to the uploaders account on You Tube.)

    And this link gives the full parliamentary record of former Camborne MP Candy Atherton’s exchange with the Minister of Defence on the issue in 2000.

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