Tuesday, September 08, 2020

How I became anti-nuclear: Windscale Fallout by Ian Breach

Ever since Michael Gove said "I think the people of this country have had enough of experts" the left hasn't been able to get enough of them.

Yet if you are on the left then at some point you will have decided that Important People are wrong.

For me it was the debate over nuclear power. At the start of 1978, when I was still 17, Lord Justice Parker recommended in his inquiry report that a thermal oxide reprocessing plant be built at Windscale and the government went ahead with the idea.

I decided Parker had got it wrong. I remember asking a visiting speaker at school, who was there to promote nuclear, why we didn't develop renewables instead.

And I had a 'Nuclear Power? No Thanks' T-shirt and bought a Penguin Special on the subject: Windscale Fallout by Ian Breach. 

Though they sound like something out of the 1940s, Penguin Special were very much a thing in those days. They felt serious and grown up and I liked them in the way I liked the New Statesman because it had its leading article on the front cover.

I've found a review of Windscale Fallout from Australian Left Review:

The scene that Breach describes is familiar: A company which has been doing a profitable business in reprocessing nuclear fuel wants to expand its operations. It already has a very lucrative contract with Japan. The workers are in general in favour of this expansion. And so is the Labour Government. The expansion goes along with future plans for a commercial fast breeder reactor program. But because the company has been secretive about the safety of its operations, because local people are concerned, the Government is induced to hold a public inquiry.

The wide terms of reference of the inquiry encourage those who have objections, mostly environmentalists, to throw a great deal of time, effort and money into presenting their case. They raise the issues of safety, civil liberties, nuclear proliferation, the need for public participation in setting safety standards and making energy policy. In the end, the Commissioners write the report which the company and the Government expected and wanted.

Not much has changed in more than 40 years.

Breach was an interesting figure who became one of the BBC's first environmental correspondents before, his Guardian obituary records, being sacked by John Birt for demanding the corporation devote more airtime to the environment.

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