Industry: water, steel & energy

Baker, Sir John (7 of 12). An Oral History of the Electricity Supply in the UK

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  • Recording date

    2013-12-03, 2014-01-07, 2014-02-05, 2014-02-19, 2014-04-10, 2014-05-21

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, London

  • Interviewees

    Baker, Sir John, 1937- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 7: Further comments on Sizewell B inquiry and British planning processes: slow progress over 3 years, eventual report by Frank Layfield; discouraging nature of slow and repetitive process on inquiry, Frank Layfield determined to allow all objectors to voice their views in full, barrister Henry Brook adding further questions; impasse between Layfield requirement that NII should be satisfied with safety of plant before he would give planning consent, and NII view that plants were not certifiable until built; contrast of lengthy process of British construction of Sizewell B with French progress; [06:30] failure of British planning system in major infrastructure developments with wider negative economic consequences; anecdote about French view of British planning process; politicians needing courage to take high level policy issues rather than resort to lengthy discussions of issues; similarities of Heathrow terminal 5 and Sizewell B processes; Sizewell B report not changing the views of people involved; JB feelings about taking part in process; [09:50] governments too easily swayed by public opinion over difficult decisions on important issues; strong anti-nuclear movement in UK at time of Sizewell B, over issues such as leaks at Sellafield and confusion between nuclear power and weapons. [11:40] Comments on selection of Sizewell B plant: world wide use of PWRs potentially allowing easy selection of plant; British government deciding that extra safety measures were required over and above practice elsewhere; British Government and NII demanding steel manufacturing standards in advance of production processes anywhere in the world, leading to special and highly expensive contracts to Japanese steel makers for construction of pressure vessel; high level of redundancy in Sizewell B plant; anecdote about huge amount of concrete and steel reinforcement used in construction; over-engineering of Sizewell and construction to high earthquake resistance in region not known for earthquakes; [17:28] over-engineering of safety issues pandering to British national character but damaging economic prospects; conspiracy of silence over issues at time; demand for high level of safety standards; British industry benefiting from huge amount of pipework needed for reactor, with CEGB bringing manufacturers into a consortium; development of 3D computer aided design tools for pipework. [22:05] Remarks on Sizewell B costs: heavy upfront costs of Sizewell B as it was planned as first in its class; manufacturers overcharging for work compared to similar designs; anecdote about flying Concorde to negotiate with Westinghouse in New York; high cost of Sizewell B rendering it uneconomic unless followed by series production of design; lessons not learned from Sizewell process, leaving UK in position of a new and expensive programme of nuclear power station construction; anecdote comparing slow progress of nuclear power station construction with that on new London airport. [26:50] Remarks on: construction of Sizewell B from late 1980s; wide variety of opponents to nuclear power in 1980s. [28:05] Story about CEGB public relations exercise involving staging a training crash into nuclear fuel flask: CEGB rarely having initiative in public relations battle with opponents of nuclear power; 1980s concern over transit of nuclear fuel rods by rail; Walter Marshall and JB deciding a demonstration was needed; railways and train obtained from British Rail; description of staging of crash in arena for 4000 witnesses; integrity of nuclear fuel container after crash; [34:05] good media reaction to demonstration; anecdote about cartoon in Daily Mail inspired by JB response at press conference; great public relations success of exercise. [36:25] Remarks on: Walter Marshall public lectures on nuclear risks potentially exposing him to dangerous levels of radiation; Marshall's death of bone cancer. [38:10] Remarks on nuclear waste issues: nuclear processes inevitably creating radioactive waste, such as at hospitals; range of classifications for variously dangerous radioactive waste; long running storage of low level waste near Sellafield; small quantity of high level waste; policy at time of burying lower level waste; long unanswered questions over how to deal with high level waste; concept of storing high level waste in glass blocks and burying deep underground; formation of UK Nirex Limited to find sites for storing waste, chaired by JB; Tom McInerney becoming managing director; JB discussions with ministers over search for nuclear waste sites; [45:10] above ground storage of waste in suitable facilities possible; few possible sites geologically suitable for high level storage in UK, such as sites in North East, Lake District, North East Scotland; clay ground structures ideal for low level waste storage; anecdote about search for sites; heavy opposition to potential sites; JB and others needing security protection after discovering they were on extremists' hit lists; JB concerns for family, sympathy with victims of animal rights protesters; [51:10] JB taking report to planning minister Nicholas Ridley; anecdote about Conservative government dropping support for low level waste stores when it realised that potential sites were in Tory voting constituencies; Sellafield only constituency where it was politically possible to store waste; need for reprocessing of high level waste for storage interacting with separate debates over reprocessing of fuel; poor public relations presentation of issues due to debates within industry; JB and Walter Marshall views differing over need for Sellafield reprocessing facilities. [54:50] Remarks on: public relations and nuclear policy, politicians hugely influenced by public opinion and media presentation; long term problem of nuclear waste storage an ongoing argument against nuclear power; modest size of Nirex organisation, work farmed out to constituent groups, East Anglia University providing academic insight; CEGB being used to address other issues, such as nuclear waste, for nation at large. [58:20] Remarks on acid rain: increased concerns in 1970s over acid rain damage to lakes and trees in Scandinavia and Germany; CEGB research into acid effects on trees at Leatherhead laboratories; adaptation of flue gas desulphurisation; delays over desulphurisation measures. [1:01:30] Remarks on CEGB being used to fund other nationally important areas: CEGB support for British coal industry, British nuclear fuel industry, British industrial plant suppliers; CEGB being used as quasi-taxation system to fund other programmes, such as research into fears of cancer caused by magnetic fields around high voltage cables; legitimate use of nationalised industry but requiring more public transparency; ESI privatisation removing ESI funding for other areas with consequential reductions in cost; Treasury using CEGB as a form of taxation through assigning CEGB a negative borrowing limit; reduction in wholesale price of electricity at privatisation with removal of other functions. [1:09:45] Remarks on: reorientation of CEGB research to more practical ends; CEGB large research effort in engineering issues of daily need, as well as high profile programmes; high quality of CEGB research staff. [1:12:10] Remarks on alternative power sources: limited CEGB attention to renewable energy, CEGB mindset searching for efficiency through economies of scale through ever larger power stations; renewable energy only emerging seriously in 1990s; privatisation opening up opportunities for renewable energy; historical CEGB use of open cycle gas turbine power stations for urgent power; greater efficiency of closed cycle gas turbines [CCGT]; experiments with efficient large size CCGT used in USA and Europe; advantages of CCGT power stations over coal power stations; British fuel policy until 1980s restricting use of natural gas in power stations; realisation that there were huge natural gas reserves, which had previously been seen as a waste product of oil industry; [1:19:00] potential for fracking to release more gas for fuel; advantages of gas fuelled power stations; JB work in 1980s with smaller companies wishing to build CCGT stations, unrealised by decision to privatise industry; post-privatisation boom in construction of CCGT power stations, due to advantages of CCGT technology and easier financing arrangements; privatised ESI work on renewables by 1990s, such as National Wind Power wind farm in Wales with power bought by Body Shop. [1:24:30] Comments on run up to privatisation: JB work in 1980s with civil engineering contractors and plant suppliers over CCGT schemes; JB discussions with Ministers over reform of Barnwood; JB scepticism over ability to reform Barnwood and suggestion to allow third parties to provide alternatives, unrealised due to privatisation plans splitting up CEGB to create competitive situation; role of politicians in coming up with concept of competition in industry, but industry and advisers realising the concept; tight time-frame of privatisation leading to ad-hoc approach to privatisation rather than controlled by a master-plan; necessity of post-privatisation industry and market actually working; setting up of long-term contracts before privatisation to ensure continuity, reliability in supply of power and attraction to investors; genius of privatisation not in economists' schemes but in ad hoc managerial fixing of issues.

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