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The Inside Story of Nuclear Power: Part I

Since the conception of the Pianosa Memoires I have been waiting to sit and talk to one person in particular – my father. My father has a unique perspective on a very controversial subject after working in the industry for almost 40 years. Since 1974 my father has worked in one place and one place only – a nuclear power station. I wanted to write an article about nuclear energy because there seems to be a global ignorance or misunderstanding about it.

During his long career my father’s safety has benefited from technological advancements, he’s been able to professionally understand nuclear disasters around the world and seen how the industry is affected by political change and public opinion.

The talk will be posted in three parts. This first part of the talk is more informative than opinionated and is about the industry in general and the power station my father works at.

Nuclear energy was originally developed for the production of weapons grade uranium to maintain the development of nuclear weapons in the 1950’s; during the Cold War. At the time it was the only known way to develop weapons grade uranium. Not all the material was extracted from reactors to develop weapons – only a very small amount – most of the material was used to generate electricity. Uranium, a stable and safe natural element, is found in the UK but the world’s largest producer is Australia.

In 1956 the world’s first nuclear power station was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in Colder Hall, Cumbria, UK. My father’s station, named Wylfa, opened in 1971 and was around the sixteenth station to be built in the UK. Its coastal location was ideal due to its geological foundations and it being above sea level. Most other sites in the UK have the same criteria.

Wylfa created around 400 jobs, a major boost to the local economy. The local community was glad and appreciative of such a large employer. Wylfa’s construction also brought foreign investment to the area with Australia’s Rio Tinto building an aluminum production plant creating a further 500 jobs. A direct power line was installed between the station and the plant reducing costs for the plant.

My father was seventeen when Wylfa opened and was training as an engineer in the North West of England, 140km away. After completing his training he had many opportunities, such as working in the aerospace industry, but wanted to return home. Wylfa was a natural choice; he did not choose to work there because it was a nuclear facility but simply because it was a large employer in the local area. Several of his schoolmates also started working there at the same time.

During the early 1970’s there was no popular movement against nuclear energy and the UK government strongly supported it. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was active with such slogans as “Ban the Bomb” but it was not opposed to nuclear energy. My father supported such organizations, like most people, and was fully aware of the consequences of a nuclear war.

In the second part of the talk we discussed severe changes the industry went through as a result of the Chernobyl accident of 1986 and global nuclear politics. Read all about it in the next post.

Further reading:

Wylfa Nuclear Power Station

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wylfa_Nuclear_Power_Station

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

http://www.cnduk.org/

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