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Letters: Exposing the truth of Calder Hall's military significance

The main point:

Calder Hall has a military use as well as a civil one

Calder Hall has a military use as well as a civil one

I was surprised to read in your articles on covering nuclear waste management projects at the Sellafield and Dounreay nuclear complexes (NCE 4 February), that you describe Sellafield as hosting the world’s first “commercial nuclear power plant [station].”

To describe the Calder Hall plant as a commercial reactor is misleading, and something the current nuclear industry is content to go along with. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) regularly misrepresents Calder Hall’s origins in its literature, and declines to correct this even when it is pointed out.

As someone who wrote a PhD thesis on the UK nuclear reactor design decisions from the early 1950s to the decision in 1979 to switch to an American reactor design, I was interested to read the leading article in The Times on Calder Hall published on 17 October 1956.

This leader interestingly described Calder Hall as the “first full scale” nuclear plant, not the world’s first “civil” nuclear power plant. In identifying it as a “project of high priority,” the leader rightly pointed out: “As well as the generation of electricity, it serves a military purpose − the production of plutonium.”

This is how Calder Hall was described in the official book, Calder Hall, published in 1956 by the UK Atomic Energy Authority, and indeed is how it was operated for much of its life.

● Dr David Lowry, Environmental policy and research consultant, 45 Clandon Close, Stoneleigh, Surrey KT17 2NH


Thames Estuary airport plan is still alive and kicking as part of a bigger plan to regenerate the region east of central London

Douglas Oakervee

Douglas Oakervee

The suggestion that I have abandoned the London mayor Boris Johnson and my work in connection with the Thames Estuary airport could not be further from the truth.

What is correct is that I was unable to attend The London Assembly Environmental Committee on the 11 March as planned, due to urgent and changing business commitments in Hong Kong. Without funding being available on this project, my work is proceeding on a pro bono basis and hence there are occasions where the paying clients have to take priority. The purpose of my volunteering some months ago to attend this meeting was to give members a presentation on my report, discuss the way forward and to answer their questions.

During the course of preparing my report it became clear that much wider issues, including the eff ects of climate change, water and fl ood defences, the ecology, power generations, land transport, river trade and leisure activities were at stake rather than just the location of an airport.

Since submitting the Thames Estuary Airport Feasibility Review the Mayor has implemented my principle recommendation by establishing the Thames Estuary Steering Group to take a holistic review of these challenges, rather than considering individual schemes in isolation.

London and the South East is the most productive and profi table part of the UK economy. Its ability to continue to grow is a key contribution to the prosperity across the country. But it is also crowded and congested and there is severe resistance to continued expansion of activity of all kinds, particularly on the western side. Making possible a better use of the sites and resources on the eastern side of London and in Kent and Essex is fundamental to continued success. Moreover, there is a need for regeneration of these areas which is well documented in the publications over the years of the Thames Gateway. We need to consider the consequences of not making these investments, as well as the benefits if we do.

The Steering Group, under the chairmanship of Sir David King, has been formed to take forward these issues. Members have been drawn as widely as possible to reflect all possible interests. The issues cut across government departmental boundaries, and are long term in nature. The Group would like to begin by conducting a Scoping Review of the main needs facing London and the South East, and indeed the UK, in looking at the Estuary and how further studies might address these. This is intended to set the parameters for a wider study subsequently. We aim to identify the most important questions and any show stopping matters.

To this end I chaired a meeting on the 23 February, immediately prior to my departure to Hong Kong, attended by the principals of several leading fi rms covering engineering, planning, architecture, flood management and
hydrology. It was quickly established that this exercise need not start from scratch, for between these organisations, a wealth of data already exists but has to be mapped, assembled and distilled in the light of an holistic review.

All involved are keen to take this important task forward but without funding being available it is proceeding on a pro bono basis and hence there are occasions when fee paying clients have to take priority. Hence, the reason I was not available to meet with the London Assemble Environmental Committee.

  • Douglas Oakervee, Thames Gateway Research & Development Company, 135c Sheen Lane London SW14 8AE

Editor’s note: Apologies to Doug Oakervee for any embarrassment that our reporting of this story last week may have caused.

Eurocode competence

David Smith’s letter about Eurocodes (NCE 4 March) speaks eloquently about the enthusiasm in Atkins to embrace these new codes.

But how many Atkins engineers are now considered to be competent to design real structures to Eurocodes and what proportion is this of the total number of engineers they employ in the UK?

  • Alasdair N Beal (M), 10 King George Avenue, Chapel Allerton, Leeds LS7 4LH

Why stay in Westminster?

ICE President Paul Jowitt’s responses to the questions about 8 Storey’s Gate (8SG) raise more queries than they answer (NCE last week).

He says that the ICE sold the Heron Quay office at Canary Wharf in 2009 at “the optimum time point in the market”.

I thought that commercial property prices in 2009 were 50% lower than in 2007. He adds that “Thomas Telford (TTL) will cover the loan required for the refurbishment of 8SG in lieu of rent. Thereafter TTL will pay the ICE for the rental of its use of 8SG, just as it did previously for the use of Heron Quay”.

How long is this rent free period going to be? Jowitt also points out that One Great George Street [OGGS] generates a large income and without that income, subscription rates would likely increase or services reduce.What is the current market value of OGGS and the income generated net of expenses?

Perhaps if members were given a choice between having our offi ces in one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the UK and that of maintaining a representative offi ce in central London and all other services, including TTL, in vastly cheaper accommodation outside London, without paying London salaries to staff , they may well decide the latter is a better option. I would welcome an open debate on this matter.

  • Charles M Roberts (F),

Defining the cost of 8 Storey’s Gate

On page 7 of last week’s issue of NCE we read that “the full refurbishment 8 Storey’s Gate can be achieved at virtually no cost to the Institution or members”.

However, on page 25 we are informed by our President that “No subscription income will be required to pay for this refurbishment”.

Many dictionaries consider that “virtually” means “almost or nearly” so indicating some cost to members who incidentally pay subscriptions.

There seems to me to be an economy in the truth between these two articles.

  • Mike Hayward (M), Stockport, m.hayward709@

MPR’s credibility with the young

In recent years, the ICE has tried very hard to promote the value of membership through the Member Professional Review (MPR).

I noticed that, for the spring 2010 Professional Review in the UK (NCE 25 February), there were five columns of applicants for the Chartered Professional Review but only half a column of applicants for the Member Professional Review.

Does this indicate that the ICE is having little success in persuading younger members that the MPR is worthy of their aspirations?

  • Ian M Munroe (M), Dunfermline,

Celebrating the donkey jacket

Michael Foot

Michael Foot − famous donkey jacket wearer

It is good to see that NCE is now aware that engineers need to engage with politicians on a regular basis so that our views can hopefully have a signifi cant impact on the issues of the day.

We should also report more on the issues facing the workers at the sharp end of construction, once recognised by the general public as the men in the donkey jackets.

It is sad to reflect that the former Labour Party leader, Michael Foot, was once vilified for wearing a coat resembling a donkey jacket.

Nowadays politicians are only too keen to be seen in the hi-viz safety jackets.

  • Peter Mason,

SUDS and sensibility

To take forward the comment made by Richard Ashley (Letters last week), I trust his experience, although note that the draft Flood and Water Management Bill’s proposed mechanism for SUDS approval is very clumsy.

How the SUDS Approval Board approval will fit in with planning, sewerage undertaker discussions and Environment Agency duties seems quite an ordeal.

Having experienced the current drainage approval system hundreds of times I am concerned how the industry will respond to the added complexity.

We have yet to hear of a simpler way forward for councils to take on responsibility for SUDS. Any ideas? Or is there no avoiding a slower, iterative process?

  • Leigh Parratt, Amazi Consulting,

Your views & opinion

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

The Editor, NCE,
1st Floor, Greater
London House,
Hampstead Road,
London NW1 7EJ

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