Industry: water, steel & energy

Vey, Peter (7 of 10). An Oral History of the Electricity Supply in the UK

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  • Recording date

    2016-01-28, 2016-02-19, 2016-04-04, 2016-04-18, 2016-05-10, 2016-05-20

  • Interviewees

    Vey, Peter, 1928- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 7: Remarks on joining UKAEA: description of prestigious Charles II street UKAEA headquarters in central London; anecdote about PV office needing redecorating; PV commute from Leamington Spa providing useful time for research; extent of PV learning about nuclear power; anecdote about PV boss Frank Chadwick taking him out for lunch on first day; PV staff of press officers, library staff, photographers; [04:55] outline of UKAEA sites at Harwell, Risley, Dounreay, Winfrith, experimental reactors; PV initiating information liaison group bringing together publicity staff from different UKAEA locations; thorough security vetting of PV when he started, high security clearance required for PV work; [08:25] anecdote about security problems during a visit to Winfrith with Department of Energy [DEn] press officer Bernard Ingham; security measures; anecdote about PV turning down lunch invitation from Czech embassy science attaché; [11:20] outline of PV job description as Director of Information Services; growth in environmental opposition to UKAEA ocean dumping of low level waste and drilling for high level waste repository in granite formations. [13:35] Remarks on PV involvement with BBC documentary on nuclear energy and its risks: presented by strong willed former athlete Chris Brasher; PV setting up series of lunches for journalists with Sir John Hill; UKAEA previous objections to BBC bias; balanced end programme. [16:55] Remarks on environmental opposition to nuclear power: Greenpeace activism against dumping of waste at sea; Friends of the Earth formidable expert Walter Patterson; UKAEA having to maintain higher standards of truth than objectors; range of views on environmentalists inside UKAEA, from tolerant John Hill to dismissive Tom Marsham and Walter Marshall; mentions environmentalists attacking BNFL [British Nuclear Fuels]; energy minister Tony Benn favouring environmentalists [possible restriction 20:29] anecdote about Bernard Ingham forewarning nuclear industry, civil service opposition to Benn. [21:09] Remarks on debates: UKAEA debates with environmentalists; PV organising an Oxford Union debate between John Hill and Arthur Scargill; Walter Marshall appearance on BBC's 'Woman's Hour', women more worried about nuclear power than men. [24:50] Remarks on UKAEA publicity and public relations: priorities of MP's, opinion formers, schools, and public at large; Arthur Scargill opposition to nuclear power; concerns over theft of nuclear materials by IRA terrorists and use in a dirty bomb, still a worry with contemporary terrorist groups; care needed in discussing security measures with public; UKAEA police force; [29:00] UKAEA schools teams; CEGB major team of public speakers; UKAEA interaction with MPs, emphasis on briefing pro-nuclear MPs and winning over MPs who might be swayed; mentions John Gummer being MP for Sizewell; UKAEA establishment directors building relations with local MPs; surveys of public attitudes to nuclear power; monitoring of newspapers, issuing responses to criticism; public rarely writing in to UKAEA directly, expressing views through other ways, sometimes writing to site managers locally; [35:30] open days for public at Winfrith and Dounreay, PV later encouraging similar programme at CEGB; mentions no UKAEA visitor centres at time; Dounreay importance to local economy. [37:10] [37:10] Remarks on Sir John Hill: PV having much interaction with Hill; award winning communicator; Hill speech making technique, interaction with PV over speeches; Hill quiet and easy to work with; contrast with formidable manner of successor Walter Marshall; mentions Tom Marsham's practical outlook; mentions press officer Graham Starr; Frank Chadwick; cynical deputy manager of Dounreay. [41:20] Remarks on scientists and communication: UKAEA staff reaction to PV, some supportive others dismissive; Harwell independent stance, PV accepted by Harwell director; Harwell filled with brilliant scientists, such as Brian Flowers and Walter Marshall, giving them an independent stance; anecdote about Tom Marsham expecting scientists to be believed because they were scientists; PV building good relations with scientists, finding most scientists good communicators; need to keep explanations simple for the layman; UKAEA feeling of obligation to explain why objections to nuclear power were wrong, and why nuclear power was useful. [47:00] Remarks on 1970s debates on reactor choice: UKAEA development of gas cooled reactors, challenged by American PWR [pressured water reactors]; John Hill and Walter Marshall appearance before select committee; Arnold Weinstock and GEC supporting PWR; Hill signalling abandonment of SGHWR to chagrin of select committee; press largely overlooking debate; Francis Tomb's support for gas cooled reactors; reactor choice a background debate at UKAEA between PWR supporters Harwell and Marshall, and Risley supporter for British reactor designs; [51:50] anecdote about Walter Marshall being sacked as DEn chief scientist by Tony Benn due to Marshall attempting to set up a reactor deal with Iran, likely winning him support of Margaret Thatcher. [53:40] Comments on Walter Marshall: PV early contacts with Marshall at UKAEA building mutual respect; PV contact with Marshall over his campaign for fast reactor programme; anecdote about Marshall having multiple secretaries; Marshall deputy chairman of UKAEA and scientist to DEn until sacked by Benn from latter. [57:30] Remarks on PV setting up Nuclear Power Information Group [NPIG]: headed by Frank Chadwick; anecdote about group changing its name Nuclear Information Group; membership including UKAEA, CEGB, SSEB, NNC, BNFL; group working well. [1:00:55] Remarks on: promoting UKAEA and promoting nuclear power complimentary activities; interaction with DEn through Bernard Ingham. [1:02:40] Remarks on working at UKAEA: gentlemanly atmosphere and less pressurised than working in motor industry; PV weekly meeting with staff; lack of typical day; occasional visits to UKAEA establishments, often Harwell; civil service practice of working through circulation and comment on minutes, anecdote about Frank Chadwick objecting to PV not commenting on minutes; PV expense account more restricted than in car industry; PV staying with friends in London during week, adjusting working hours for commute to Leamington. [1:07:20] Remarks on fusion power: UKAEA running JET experimental reactor; mentions helping to organise a European visit to Culham; anecdote about Walter Marshall dismissal of fusion power in his maiden speech in House of Lords; able Culham director 'Bas' Pease; public interested in fusion due to lower waste than fission. [1:10:55] Remarks on image of nuclear power PV was trying to create: cleanliness, compared to coal; energy independence; inexhaustible source of energy.

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