Wednesday 14 July 2010
Nearly 20 years have passed since, as a result of a mercifully false alarm, The Independent invited the distinguished Nobel laureate Sir Rudolph Peierls – than whom no one was better qualified or in a better position to do so – to pen the obituary of Brian Flowers (10 July), writes Tam Dalyell. May I add a word about his valuable contribution to parliament and public life through the House of Lords Select Committee, the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee and the Foundation for Science and Technology? No peer's opinions on the environment, energy policy or higher education carried more weight, not only in the Lords but, judging from the number of times I heard him quoted on the floor of the House, in the Commons, too.
For example, on 12 January 2005 he referred to his own report on nuclear waste 30 years earlier. "There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to insure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future."
Along with my fellow Labour MPs David Drew and Bill Tynan and other members of the Labour Party nuclear power group, I had been to Finland and down into the bowels of the earth 150 miles to the west of Helsinki to see the achievements in making toxic waste safe for all time. My last conversation with Flowers was to tell him about this visit. The information coincided with what he had learnt from international colleagues and he became an outright protagonist of the nuclear industry.
But my abiding memory is of the weekend spent with the then young Labour MPs Dr Jeremy Bray and Edmund Dell as guests of the Master, Sir Neville Mott FRS, and Dr David Shanberg FRS, director of the Mond Low Temperature Laboratory in Cambridge at Caius College. In exalted scientific company, we politicians were agreed that the most authoritative figure on science policy among us was the 40-year-old Caius graduate, the Langworthy Professor of Physics in Manchester, Brian Flowers.
Secure in a hugely successful marriage to Mary Behrens which was to last 60 years, he was a heavyweight of deep, yet un-irritating self-assurance, to whom we did not dare to make ill-informed conversation. Flowers was formidable indeed.
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