In a recent Stroud News and Journal (29 May 2024), Siobhan Baillie writes about ‘A bright nuclear future’. What isn’t clear to me is, whose ‘brightness’ does she mean? The industry, the environment, the government or for us as the common folk?

I grew up in south-east Pennsylvania during the 1960s and 70s, and a sister and her family lived on a farm not too far away from Three Mile Island. Mrs Baillie can be excused for not remembering it, as it was before her time, but it was a partial nuclear meltdown disaster which had a profound effect at the time on people’s attitudes towards nuclear power – and for those living nearby, on their health. The nuclear industry suppressed information about how much nuclear steam was released, and the hospitals in the region were under pressure not to release statistics on the increase in cancer following the disaster. On my sister’s farm, a number of the animals had health problems following this, and in the years following several of my sister’s children had problems with different types of cancer – in a family with no such history.

During the 1980s, my wife and I lived in Switzerland. In April 1986 Chernobyl in the Ukraine experienced the worst nuclear accident so far in history. Now, 40 years on, there are still vast swaths of land that are uninhabitable in the region. Chernobyl lies over 1000 miles away from where we were living in the Basel area, but following the accident there were urgent advisories in place in Switzerland, including our area, for mothers not to feed milk to babies from cows in the area, and to restrict play of children outdoors – due to nuclear fallout (400 times larger than the Hiroshima bomb) which had drifted on the winds. Our first child was born that autumn, and the worries were still there.

To our surprise, on moving the following year to England, we heard that Welsh sheep farmers were also significantly affected; north Wales, 2000 miles away, had also suffered from radioactive fallout, and 10,000 farms and 4 million sheep were put under government restrictions, farmers suffering for over 20 years. It's only logical that many areas in between would also have had the fallout, but the government probably didn’t want to raise worries in more (human instead of sheep) populated areas. In any case, let’s just mark a 1000 mile radius around the current or planned nuclear sites in Britain, and see if we would be affected!

In 2011, the second worst nuclear disaster struck in Fukushima. That is still in living memory of much of the population, but we seem to already be forgetting it. And although after 13 years the region and radioactivity is still significantly affected, the government and the industry are bent on further promotion of it. But government and industry go hand in hand, or hand in glove we could say. The official Japanese Fukushima investigation found that instead of supervising the nuclear company, government agencies had colluded with it. Ignoring the risks, the panel wrote, made the 2011 nuclear disaster “profoundly man-made” (from the official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission). This is not unique to Japan. In the ‘West’ such collusions are commonplace; for instance, reports and readings of high radiation levels from regular nuclear plant leaks are kept under wraps. This was already at the time of Three Mile Island.

All of the above does not mention the problems with nuclear wastes. We are under profound illusion if we think that the problems of storage have been solved for a waste that remains dangerous for tens of thousands of years. And it doesn’t touch on broader issues of environmental and energy policies, which are invariably narrow tracked for maximum profit.

So I finish with the same question, whose bright future was Mrs Baillie meaning? It certainly isn’t the environment, if we open our eyes and look beyond our short-termism. It most certainly are the nuclear corporations, as a high profit industry (as long as liability guarantees are underwritten by government), and the government, in the financial hand in glove relationships. It most certainly isn’t us, the common folk. The new nuclear policy most certainly isn’t common sense.

Richard Brinton