Television Review

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The Independent Culture
HOLES ARE useful things. The Money Programme (Sun BBC2) looked at the problem of what to do with the world's nuclear waste - there are a couple of hundred thousand tonnes of the stuff in circulation, and it needs to be stored safely for a quarter of a million years ("So in practice, indefinitely," as the commentary said, displaying an impressive knack for understatement). The best solution, according to the nuclear industry, is to put it deep underground. But every suggestion of a potentially suitable site has aroused fierce local opposition. As a man from the International Atomic Energy Authority said: "It is the Not In My Back Yard syndrome, that people want to have the electricity but they don't want to have the waste stored near to where they live, where they work." How selfish - you want the convenience of a fridge and electric light, and you're not prepared to put up with a few piffling cancers and birth defects in return. Aren't you ashamed?

Several countries are still trying to organise their own holes - in Nevada, for example, they are building miles of miles of tunnels in the "Yucca Mountain project", ostensibly to store 70,000 tonnes of high-level waste (though X-Files viewers will realise that what they're actually storing are millions of DNA samples and several thousand scorched alien cadavers). But the latest idea is that countries' individual plans are too piddling and risky; instead, it should all go into one enormous hole in the Australian outback. This has positive aspects: in geological terms, the area is as stable as you're likely to get, and it would boost the Australian economy terrifically. But Australia's industry minister felt these were outweighed by the negative aspects: "You might as well suggest we take the world's prison population," he scoffed, possibly forgetting that this one, at least, has a historical precedent.

Meanwhile, Russia - land of Chernobyl and separatist terrorists, where an entire lake is having to be filled in because it is so contaminated - is now offering to take on other people's nuclear waste, and Switzerland, possibly feeling that its recent history has lacked an element of unpredictability and risk, is seriously considering the idea. The argument is that the money the Swiss would pay for this service would help Russia to deal with its own nuclear waste, though objective commentators think the $2bn talked about would be a drop in the ocean. Cold War, now nearing the end of its run, showed the Berlin Wall coming down, and East German citizens bursting through to freedom. At that moment, it looked as if everybody had won the Cold War. If something isn't done about Russian nuclear waste, though, it's going to look as if we all lost it.

More holes in Wildlife on One (Sun BBC1). "Squirrels Under Siege" followed a family of young Californian ground squirrels and their mother, hunkered down in their burrow to avoid assault from rattle-snakes, red-tailed hawks, coyotes and badgers (these are Californian badgers - vast, intimidating pale tanks next to their waifish British cousins). There were a couple of hairy moments along the way - mother squirrel nose to nose with a rattlesnake (the commentary only revealing afterwards that she was immune to its bite, so there was no need to hide behind the sofa after all); the badger scooping away earth at the burrow entrance, while helpless baby squirrels cowered inside.

In the end, though, all the babies made it to maturity - which would have been more of a relief if I had believed it. Though we all accept some sleight of hand is necessary in wildlife documentary, this narrative looked too blatantly faked to me, with obvious switches between film and video. My worry is that the BBC decided to spare us the awful truth: zebras having their throats ripped out, fine; squirrels - nope, they're just too cute for the viewers to take it.

There were fewer scruples about hurting cuddly mammals in The Blair Essentials (Sun C4), an hour-long blast at New Labour by Rory Bremner. This was too much on one note, and I would suggest that there are good reasons not to take the piss out of David Blunkett's blindness. But there were blazingly acute moments (a commercial for the private finance initiative ending "Come on down to the PFI discount sale. But hurry! We're selling out fast!"). I bet the Prime Minister wished he had a hole to hide in.