It's time to bring back the nuclear family

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Nuclear power has become the great unmentionable of our time. The German government's announcement last week that it's going to phase out nuclear power (over, erm, a 30-year period) has been greeted as a truly epochal development. And even when the government commission in Britain last week reported that we would have to move away from fossil fuels to avoid global warming, there wasn't the faintest hint that nuclear power might fill the gap.

Nuclear power has become the great unmentionable of our time. The German government's announcement last week that it's going to phase out nuclear power (over, erm, a 30-year period) has been greeted as a truly epochal development. And even when the government commission in Britain last week reported that we would have to move away from fossil fuels to avoid global warming, there wasn't the faintest hint that nuclear power might fill the gap.

Such talk has me foaming at the mouth. Yes, nuclear waste might be a high-maintenance inheritance for our grandchildren; yes, Chernobyl and Five Mile Island perhaps knock holes in the nuclearists case - but I was brought up in a nuclear family. Belief in the inherent wonder of nuclear power has probably worked its way into my genes.

My dad was one of the first workers at Windscale, present for the legendary accident of 1957. They used to strap him into what apparently looked like a Victorian diver's costume and get him to sweep up radioactive debris, but I don't suppose he minded. Windscale, after all, introduced him to my mum: they met on the courts of the local tennis club, and thus came me.

My dad duly took up a post as a lecturer in nuclear engineering, and carried on drumming in the nuclear gospel at home. Our Austin Allegro estate sported both a German "Nuclear Power? Nein Danke" sticker - for ironic purposes, you understand - and quite possibly the rarest window accoutrement of the era: an odd sticker featuring a long-haired man giving the thumbs-up from a sports car, the exhaust of which appeared to be emitting molecular diagrams. It said "I'm for Nuclear Power!"

My Dad would occasionally appear on radio phone-ins, attempting to sway the views of an ever-sceptical public. One caller phoned in to claim that "nuclear power is more expensive than electricity". At home, it seemed, her stereo and toaster could flick between nuclear power and standard voltage, and having tapped Dungeness and Sizewell A for radiation on a few selected weekends, she'd discovered that her domestic bills had gone up. My dad tried correcting her cracked logic, but it never worked.

When it came to calls about nuclear waste, he repeatedly played a trump card, and offered to have the stuff buried in the garden. My brother and I wondered why we couldn't just have a swing and a slide, but he seemed pretty serious. Thankfully, mindful of the outrage that would greet the presence of their bulldozers in suburban Cheshire, BNFL failed to take him up on it.

As the 1980s rolled on, the world increasingly seemed to be against us. My dad would always loudly moan that whenever Panorama screened a documentary about nuclear power, their footage of power plants would be accompanied by what he called "boogy-boo" music: what sounded like Jean-Michel Jarre writing a new soundtrack for Nosferatu. With even the BBC at daggers drawn, it was hard convincing schoolmates of the merits of this most clean and clever technology.

Now, of course, the long-standing anti-nuke views of the media class have become the dominant consensus. There seems precious little chance of convincing the UK of the benefits of civil nuclear power, so we might as well surrender to the new world of dammed rivers, wind-up TV sets and the oven switching off itself because the sun's gone in.

I'm still trying to get my head round what my neighbourhood would look like with a big, white windmill behind every house. Come the erection of the first one, I'll be angrily watching the sky grow dark and clutching a home-made placard. It'll feature a slogan that, by then, might prove to be a popular rallying cry: "Nuclear Power? Yes Please!"

johnrhysharris@hotmail.com

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