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Terry Pratchett Honed His Fantastical Storytelling as PR Man for Nuclear

Today's Throwback Thursday looks at the work of 'nuclear industry spokesman' Terry Pratchett. The popular fantasty writer honed his skills working for the Central Electricity Generating Board and was effectively the spindoctor. In 1979 Pratchett became Press Officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB). He joked that he had demonstrated "impeccable timing" by making this career change so soon after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania US, and said he would "write a book about his experiences if he thought anyone would actually believe them". By 1984 with Pratchett's nuclear spinning in full swing "The Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) had nine nuclear power stations — eight based on the Magnox reactor and one on the advanced gas cooled reactor (AGR). Between them they supplied only 11 per cent of the electricity used in England and Wales. Or as Terry might say they powered the whole of the UK!

With echoes of the Pratchettesque world to come a bizarre scenario is described in SCRAM the Anti-Nuclear and Safe Energy Journal.


 At Hinkley Point in Somerset, and Dungeness in Kent, the CEGB's task in making the seismic safety cases for the Magnox stations there is complicated by the presence of geological faults running thorough the sites. The CEGB claim that it has known from the start about the existence of the fault at Hinkley Point. However, evidence we have uncovered suggests that they only become aware of the fault's existence when planning the construction of the B station ten years after work began on the A station. If this Is correct, it may only be through good fortune that the 22 year old Magnox reactors of the A station ore not sited directly over the fault. 

 As it is, the fault runs under a substation which feeds 275,000 volts of eletriclty into the national grid. CEGB spokesman Terry Pratchett says, "in 1956 the consultant engineers drew our attention to the existence of the fault and repositioned the A station to the west of it. In 1966 they did some more detailed studies on the fault and then positioned the B station to the east of it.” Further, he says that the fault is clearly visible on the surface and that its position couldn't hove been ignored. Yet our evidence suggests otherwise. Undoubtedly the presence of a fault was discussed in 1957. The minutes of a private meeting SCRAM Journal May/June 1987 between senior members of Somerset County Council on 1 January 1957 records that, "it was understood that there was a fault in the rock which might create dificulties, but Lord Hylton expressed the view that the possibility of getting the Central Electricity Authority (the CEGB's predecessor) to resite the station should be explored at once.” 



 On 28 January, the County Council sub-committee set up to investigate the Hinkley Point A project noted, "the CEA believe there is a fault and are not willing to incur the expense and risk of constructing heavy buildings on or immediately adjacent to that line." An accompanying map shows where the fault was thought to run. However, a quick glance at the official map published by the British Geological Survey shows that, whatever might hove been thought in 1957, no fault exists there. But the map does clearly mark a fault a few hundred yards away - running right through the middle of the power station site. 

 Is it possible that, in seeking to ovoid an imaginary fault, the CEA built Hinkley A just yards from a real one? The CEGB say no, but the theory is strengthened by evidence contained in a document relating to the development ten years later of the B station. This is a record of a meeting on the site in which Somerset's County Planning Officer met top CEGB officials from London. The report notes., "a minor geological fault had been found running across the site and this would involve some reconsideration of possible siting.” 

 The suggestion that the discovery would involve "reconsideration of Bridgewater Bay

possible siting" implies the fault was found only after plans for siting the new station had been drawn up, and that it had only recently been made: certainly not 10 years before. Indeed, the CEGB acknowledges that Hinkley B's position was changed during construction. Mr Pratchett says this was on the advice of the architect, Sir Frederick Gibbard, and had nothing to do with the fault. Sir Frederick's firm, which also designed Hinkley A, and could presumably shed some light on the matter, refuses to answer questions and refers all enquiries to the CEGB. But if the CEGB really knew of the fault's exact position in 1957, why build the electricity substation on top of it? 

 Mr Pratchett acknowledged that, "it's an integral part of the station. Without it the electricity generated on site could not be fed into the national grid." However, he adds, "its failure, should it ever occur, isn't related to the safety of the reactors.” 

The Scottish paper The Herald notes in a review of his biography that "Pratchett’s journalistic career was not distinguished; possibly its lowest point came as a press officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board, South Western Region. When news broke of a gas leak at Hinkley Point nuclear power station, he collapsed and was rushed to hospital. It was not a heart attack as first suspected, but a panic attack."

Terry Pratchett's fantasy writing has, deservedly, legions of fans, his creation of a multitude of fantasy worlds is witty, generous and poignant.

But there is another fantasy world with a dark heart he had no small part in contributing to. It is a world in which the very real legacy, the most toxic legacy of the nuclear fantasy of "clean" energy, will undoubtedly last far longer than our present concept of language.

"“no one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away”, Terry Pratchett

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