Industry: water, steel & energy

Vey, Peter (11 of 14). 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, 1949- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 11: Comments on Chernobyl: PV learning of accident from Jim Corner from British Nuclear Forum; radioactive cloud passing over France, without French warning others, setting off alarms at Dungeness; government handling press; huge CEGB meeting lasting into night where Chernobyl was analysed, little knowledge of RMBK type of reactor, previous National Nuclear Corporation [NNC] visit to RMBK proving vital in showing that British reactors would not suffer similar problems; reassurance needed due to Sizewell B sensitivity; PV accompanying Walter Marshall on campaign of media interviews; mentions Marshall developing a cross industry forum and CEGB speakers briefed on accident; [04:35] major IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] Conference in Vienna, where Russian revealed some information on Chernobyl’s, mentions Walt Paterson briefings for environmentalists; PV initial curiosity then realisation of extent of disaster; world nuclear industry uniting, creating World Association of Nuclear operators [WANO], chaired by Walter Marshall; [08:00] day news broke, Walter Marshall calling meeting to determine what happened; gradually developing news story; CEGB major media focus on media at first to explain what had happened and how Chernobyl differed from British situation; discovery at Trawsfynydd of extent of effect of radioactive cloud; Walter Marshall developing a series of lectures on radioactive cloud fallout; mentions radioactive sheep; PR trying to defend nuclear technology against nuclear sceptics. [13:20] Remarks on CEGB presentation of nuclear power: economical, energy independent, safe and clean; emphasis after Chernobyl that a similar accident couldn't happen in Britain. [15:00] Comments about WANO visit to Russia after Chernobyl: Walter Marshall and American Institute of Nuclear Power Operations [INPO] organising trip; hope that all countries would sign up to international safety standards; all countries singing safety agreement in Moscow; description of salutary visit to Chernobyl, visit to surviving power plant and abandoned town of Pripyat, PV surprise at emptiness of Pripyat and speakers playing martial music; PV wife accompanying him on trip; mentions eating a tomato from Chernobyl allotment; [20:40] mentions nervousness over steam coming from reactor; huge power station site, exploded plant covered in concrete sarcophagus; aggressive press conference aimed at Marshall from Russian press unused to being able to ask questions; anecdote about rewarding Russian helpers with ballpoint pens; Russian surveillance; variable conditions in hotels; [24:50] Soviet citizens spitting at tour buses; anti-Western tour guide; anecdotes about queues in shops and over-staffing of road maintenance; Russians admitting mistakes had been made at Chernobyl; circumstances of accident at Chernobyl because of safety procedures being overriden; [pause 28:10] success of trip in WANO safety procedures; Walter Marshall pleased at success of WANO after being persuaded to become involved as he was one of the few with the stature to drive organisation anecdote about Marshall's style of negotiating with Russians at previous WANO meeting in Paris. [cont' from 31:00] [31:00] Remarks on: discussions on Chernobyl in aftermath in scientific press; interviewer mentions CEGB film about Chernobyl; journalists closely questioning Marshall but not aggressively; environmentalists, mix of national groups and local opposition to particular developments; CEGB and SSEB working together to defend nuclear power, British Nuclear Forum [BNF] taking lead in publishing benefits of nuclear power; mentions Uranium Institute criticism of nuclear industry; environmentalist action against nuclear industry, direct action from Greenpeace but mostly about trying to influence events. [38:35] Remarks on acid rain: problem appearing early in PV career; prominence of CEGB scientist Peter Chester in debate; press officer Diane Long taking lead on acid rain PR; collaboration with National Coal Board [NCB], mentions Ian MacGregor and Marshall joint press conference; Swedish embassy briefing British press on issue; PV appearance on 'Today Programme' opposing Swedish official; CEGB defence over sulphur dioxide emissions; anecdote about Walter Marshall being berated by Swedish premier; acid rain issue dying away but Nitrous Oxide concerns still an issue; [43:40] acid rain a major issue at time, eventual fitting of flue gas desulpherisation plant at power stations such as Drax. [44:30] Remarks on: public presentation of CEGB, responsible organisation that was there to serve public with cheap, reliable and clean power; PV enjoyment of job, issues and challenges vital to enjoyment of job; long working hours over 7 day week; PV sometimes spending hours debating ideas with Walter Marshall; CEGB good organisation to work for, but big and bureaucratic; PV well supported in CEGB; PV finding adjustment to working at CEGB easy after UKAEA; more freedom at CEGB than in UKAEA. [49:20] Description of typical day at work in CEGB: 7am train commute, picked up from Waterloo station; anecdote about newspaper reading reading habits on commute; anecdote about PV trying to read same paper as boss John Baker; press cuttings; weekly meeting with staff, weekly CEGB executive; many meetings; entertaining staff in Sudbury House restaurant; visiting regions and power stations regularly; 6:30 leaving office with car to station; outline of typical Monday morning CEGB executive meeting. [53:40] Remarks on: description of CEGB deputy chairman Fred Bonner; PV contact with Frank Ledger, Peter Chester, Roy Matthews; PV limited contact with operational side of industry; short story about PR influence on CEGB actions, contractors poor handling of asbestos in demolition of a power station reflecting poorly on CEGB, PV using press cuttings to influence change in policy.

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