11th January 2002
The future of Nuclear Power is back on the agenda as the
government reconsiders its future in the energy review and
the outcome is of great importance for all of us since it
is so closely linked to nuclear weapons.
During the war, Harold Nicolson wrote a novel called PUBLIC
FACES in which he described the invention of an Atom bomb
by Britain so the news of the atomic attack on Hiroshima seemed
like a fantasy that had come true, and Group Captain Cheshire
who was sent as the cabinet representative in one of the planes
which involved in that raid, told a student meeting I attended
later, that if we did not get our policy in nuclear weapons
right everything we were doing was a complete waste of time.
Then in 1955 President Eisenhower launched the 'Atoms for
Peace' programme and many people, including me, saw this as
a classic example of 'beating swords into ploughshares' and
strongly supported civil nuclear power in Britain, a view
I still held when, in 1966 I was appointed Minister of Technology
with responsibility for the development of that programme.
I was told, believed and argued publicly that civil nuclear
power was cheap, safe and peaceful and it was only later that
I learned that this was all untrue since, if the full cost
of development and the cost of storing long-term nuclear waste
is included in the calculations nuclear power is three times
the cost of coal when the pits were being closed on economic
Nuclear power is certainly not safe as we know from accidents
at Windscale (now renamed Sellafield), from Three Mile Island
in America and Chernobyl in the Ukraine, dangers which the
authorities have always been determined to downplay.
Nor are Britain's civil nuclear power stations peaceful
as for many years, and still possibly today, the plutonium
they produce was sent to fuel the American nuclear weapons
programme, making them into - what were in effect - bomb factories.
At no stage, as a minister, could I rely on being told the
truth either by the Industry itself, or by my own civil servants
who may or may not have known it themselves.
Some dramatic examples of misinformation which made a deep
impression on me converted me from being a supporter to a
very strong opponent of the whole nuclear power programme.
Once, in Japan, a Japanese minister asked me how we were
getting on with the task of clearing up the fire at Windscale
years before, of which I was wholly unaware.
When I raised this with my officials they replied that as
it had occurred before I took office they had not wanted to
'bother me' with it, all this at a time when I was arguing
that nuclear power was safe.
The same excuse, that it was 'before my time', was offered
when I discovered that stolen plutonium had gone to Israel
forming the basis of their own atomic weapons programme.
And, most serious of all, I heard from the Chairman of the
Atomic Energy Authority, that when in 1957 the Soviet reprocessing
plant at Khysthm had a major accident the US Central Intelligence
Agency, which had picked this up on their own monitoring system,
notified the AEA but had told them not to tell British Ministers
in case it shook public confidence in Nuclear power, using
that as the reason why I had not been informed.
And it was only after the 1979 election that I heard from
a senior scientist in the Generating Board, that while I was
actually a minister, and unknown to me, plutonium from our
civil nuclear power stations was being sent to America for
their own military programme.
Nuclear power is expensive, dangerous and all about the
Bomb, using the generation of electricity as a cover to mislead
the public so that the arms programme can be munitioned.
The decision to proceed with the MOX fuel plant at Sellafield
against the strong opposition of the Irish and Norwegian governments,
which fear radioactive discharges, suggests that the prime
minister is determined to go ahead with nuclear power, though
the German government have decided to decommission 19 nuclear
reactors of their own.
And the original plans, in the USA, to build 2000 reactors
by the year 2000 were dropped years ago because of public
opposition to their construction, and it may well be that
is why Britain supplied America with the plutonium which they
One other problem about nuclear power was the secret and
unhealthy link between senior British officials and Westinghouse
who were busy trying to persuade us to start a massive new
power station programme using their own Pressure Water Reactor,
which I had been advised had potential safety problems.
Throughout this long saga I came to know, trust and work
with Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and other committed
environmentalists whose expert advice was generously made
available and led me to change my mind.
So when we are told the outcome of the review these are
factors we must keep in mind because you can be sure that,
if the decision to go ahead is made, we will not be told the
whole truth and military links with the USA may well be the