Andy Blowers’ latest book, The Legacy of Nuclear Power, was launched at a packed Royal Asiatic Society in London on 11 January. The audience included academics, nuclear campaigners, media, government advisers as well as friends and colleagues Andy has known during his life as social scientist, county councillor, government adviser, nuclear company director and environmental activist. Speaking after the launch Andy said: ‘It was a wonderful occasion and very uplifting. After all these years developing this book it was great to have such a positive and moving reception’.
Sponsored by the Open University (OU) where Andy is still involved as Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences, the launch was introduced by colleague and friend, Professor David Humphreys. He talked about Andy’s contribution as a founder member of the OU and his significant teaching and research in geography and environmental policy and politics.
The lead speaker at the event was well-known environmentalist (or, as he prefers, campaigner for sustainable development) Jonathon Porritt, Director of Forum for the Future. In commending the book Jonathon stressed the emphasis on the infinite time-scales that nuclear power brings, extending its dangerous and unavoidable presence down the generations. He commented: ‘The nuclear industry invites us, all the time, to look forward – never look back. Andy Blowers’ compelling study shows why: its legacy, all around the world, is a shocking one, with no long-term solutions to the problem of nuclear waste in sight, and countless communities blighted in one way or another, by the nuclear incubus in their midst’.
In his presentation Andy picked up the theme of nuclear communities, those places which must bear the burden of the nuclear legacy for generations to come. In the book he calls them, ‘peripheral’, places that are geographically remote, economically dependent, politically powerless, socially resigned yet resilient and environmentally hazardous and degraded. They are places like the four studied in the book – Hanford in the United States where plutonium for the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki was developed; Sellafield in Cumbria once described as posing intolerable risks to people and the environment; La Hague in France where reprocessing works, nuclear power reactors and nuclear submarines combine to create a landscape of risk on the so-called ‘nuclear peninsula’. These places must live with the risk and this is the problem of the legacy that has to be managed safely and securely for the indefinite future.
Professor Gordon MacKerron from Sussex University and former Chair of the Committee on Radioactive Waste management (of which Andy was a member) spoke of a particularly dangerous part of the legacy, plutonium, of which 140 tonnes were in store at Sellafield, the largest concentration on the planet. Only a very small amount was needed for the production of nuclear weapons, the rest was stored in powdered form posing a problem of what to do with it. The government was flirting with the idea of converting it into fuel for nuclear power stations or for fast reactors that were far off in terms of commercial development. In reality there was no conceivable viable use for the vast stockpile, which should be declared a waste and managed accordingly.
In this vein, at the end of his contribution Andy argued that we must manage the legacy we already have in safe storage in the hope that a permanent solution to the problem will one day be found. We should not be creating more waste from new reactors which will add to the burden and perpetuate the presence of spent fuel in stores on deteriorating sites well into the next century and beyond into the far and unforeseeable future.
Bradwell is in clear and imminent danger of just such a future and new nuclear power there would be a danger for the present and a disaster for the future. It must be resisted at all costs. At the conclusion of his speech Andy took heart from the fourth place studied in his book, Gorleben in Germany. For nearly four decades the people there had struggled against the imposition of a deep disposal mine and a waste store for all the country’s highly active wastes. The story of the Gorleben Movement and its ultimate success was both moving and inspiring and had been the agent for Germany’s energy transition from nuclear power to renewable energy. Such a future was possible for Britain and preventing the dangers and destruction of the Blackwater by new nuclear reactors at Bradwell was one component in the change to a safe and sustainable future.