Meet the man who kept the big bang out of Brazil's back yard

Click to follow
The Independent Online
LET ME introduce you - while we're waiting for the second round in the Indo-Pakistan nuclear bomb race - to Jose Goldemberg.

No, I don't blame you for never having heard of him; you can search for the Brazilian professor in vain in the International Who's Who, while a trawl though a database of British newspaper articles doesn't turn up a single reference to his most important achievement. But he stopped a similar race in Latin America.

Throughout the Seventies and Eighties, the world expected Argentina and Brazil to get the Bomb. They had refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty or to ratify a similar Latin American pact, and secretly developed nuclear programmes.

The Brazilian military even began preparing deep wells in the northern state of Para for bomb tests.

Professor Goldemberg helped to lead a movement of scientists which, extraordinarily, got a renunciation of the Bomb written into the country's constitution in 1988, when still under military rule.

Two years later, as science minister in the first civilian government for a quarter of a century, he got the programme closed down and cement poured into the wells.

He and the Brazilian president then went to Argentina, reported what they had done and asked its government to follow suit. The two countries signed an agreement banning nuclear explosions even for "peaceful purposes" and set up a system for inspecting each other's facilities.

Professor Goldemberg - who I first met two years later, when, as environment minister, he played a central part in the Rio Earth Summit - says: "The 'nuclear competition' was distracting both governments from more pressing social issues. When they decided to forgo the production of nuclear weapons they defused a growing threat to the security and environment of Latin America."

o MIND you, ending a nuclear bomb race seems simple compared with the humdrum task of "greening" Whitehall. The Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, had another go at pushing for it last week, but neither he nor his Tory predecessors have got anywhere so far, although it has been official policy since the beginning of the decade.

It all began with great fanfare in 1990 when the firstWhite Paper on the environment promised to "integrate environmental concerns more effectively into all policy areas". "Green ministers" were appointed in each department, and were supposed to meet regularly to make sure that Whitehall kept its own house in order by saving energy and the like. And every policy was supposed to go through a formal environmental appraisal before being approved.

No prizes for guessing how this went down with the Sir Humphreys, whose only previous acquaintance with greens was on the side of their plates at the Athenaeum. And the Jim Hackers weren't much better.

When a previous environment secretary, John Gummer, was asked by a House of Lords committee how often the green ministers convened, he replied that he tried "not to have more than three or four such meetings a year".

You'll be delighted, I'm sure, to know that he succeeded magnificently: the ministers met a total of just seven times from 1990 to the end of 1996 (and even then they often sent their officials, rather than turn up in person).

The then Labour opposition poured scorn on this performance and promised to make the system work. John Battle, the green minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, told a House of Commons committee that he expected the ministers to meet - yes - three or four times a year. So far they have managed it twice in 12 months.

But even this is going it compared with both governments' records in greenscreening policies. Not a single policy went through such an environmental appraisal in all the Conservative years. Labour fought the election on a promise to implement them. Its score so far? You've guessed it. Nul points.

Mr Meacher has begun "naming and shaming" firms who don't come up to scratch in green housekeeping. But Mr Battle confessed: "Practice in-house is so bad that I would not have the nerve to tell industry [what to do]."

o TALKING of which, did you see Alan Clark's reaction to English Heritage identifying his stately home, Saltwood Castle, as at risk from "slow decay" last week? "'Naming and shaming' is a dubious practice at the best of times," he told MPs. No doubt that's why his best-selling Diaries were so bashfully discreet.

Comments