Pulling the Plug The Secret Life of the National Grid


Pulling the Plug

Series charting the history of the electricity grid concludes by looking at how it has been the battleground for conflicts that have changed and shaped Britain.


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Transcript


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'The first pylon of Britain's National Electricity Grid

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'went up in 1928.

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'And we've been plugging in ever since.

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'Today, the National Grid forms the very veins and arteries of our nation.'

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If you lose your electricity, you're pretty much dead in the water.

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'Competition for the power to feed our grid has been fierce.'

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Nuclear energy was a glamorous industry, unlike coal.

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We are going to show that you can produce electrical energy from windmills.

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'And the grid itself has been the battleground for conflicts

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'that have changed and shaped our nation.'

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Stop the electricity and they've got to go to the negotiating table.

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'We've fallen in love with power.

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'But what price are we ultimately prepared to pay for it?'

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The primary concern was to keep lights on.

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'By the end of the 1960s, Britain was using more electricity than ever.'

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The average home, even then, had more horsepower inside it

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than the average factory had had in 1900.

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The first significant electrical item I bought was a washing machine.

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If I see something, yeah, I would maybe go to town on it.

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'Power is to an industrial nation what blood is to the body.'

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'Now life without power had become the stuff of nightmares.'

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It would be a disaster almost impossible to contemplate.

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There'd be no transport. There'd be no radio or television

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or newspapers or telephones or postal service.

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Within a little while, food would start to rot unharvested in the ground

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and unfrozen and uncanned in the store houses.

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'Then, on 7th December 1970,

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'our bad dreams came true.'

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I was, at that time, group manager

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responsible for five power stations in the Midlands.

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And I was telephoned at two o'clock on the Monday morning

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and we had a very serious and dramatic emergency before we knew what was happening, really.

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'A wage dispute in power stations had led to the men calling a ban on overtime.'

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What are you actually doing when you work to rule?

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Well, when you work to rule, you do your own job, which you're entitled to do. Nothing else.

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-Does it make that much difference?

-A hell of a difference.

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The industrial staff hadn't had any industrial action for a very long time,

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so that was rather a surprise to us.

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How long do you think it would take for this effect to be felt?

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I should've thought that it would take some three weeks to a month

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before there is a serious breakdown

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in the supply of electricity in general.

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'In fact, it took just eight hours.'

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The lights went out about quarter to eight yesterday morning

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and they came on again just for an hour between 10 and 11 o'clock

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and they didn't come on again till this morning at 20 to ten.

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A sudden power cut destroys the modern world instantly.

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All these humming, whirring machines stop,

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the lights go out and you're plunged into a primeval darkness.

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The things that go bump in the night come out again

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having vanished for many decades and you're back in a medieval world just like that.

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'No-one's exempt. Buckingham Palace has been in the dark for most of the afternoon.'

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'Christmas illuminations have been switched off to conserve power.'

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'In Coventry, 15,000 workers have been affected at Jaguar Cars.'

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'Traffic lights went out at the peak of the rush hour.

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'At Bilston, a woman died after she was knocked down at lights that had failed.'

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What the power workers' dispute in 1970 demonstrated for the first time

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was just how dependent the country was on centralised electricity generation.

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You affect the supply of the electricity into the grid,

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the grid destabilises, you affect the entire country.

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"The council regret to inform you

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"that this area will probably have a power cut today

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"from 11am to 3pm."

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'Four days into the emergency, the army was mobilised

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'to send back-up generators to hospitals in crisis.'

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We were resuscitating a critically ill patient

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who had had a serious, major operation the evening before,

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and whose condition had been as critical as can be in a person of this age,

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when all of a sudden the lights were cut and we were thrown into a great degree of confusion.

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'The conduct of even the most routine procedures was in disarray.'

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I was ten years old at the time of the power cuts in 1970.

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My doctor decided it was time for me to have my tonsils out.

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So, consequently, I'd gone into hospital

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and then, basically, there was about 20 of us on the children's ward.

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I think most of us were there to have our tonsils out.

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It was like, all the time you were just kind of,

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"Is it going to be my turn today? Are they going to have...

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"Is the power going to be on for long enough?"

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The staff installed lanterns and candles around the ward

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and they kind of turned it into a bit of an adventure, if you like.

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The nurses used to tell us ghost stories.

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They'd tell us about people who'd died in the hospital

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and their ghosts still walked the corridors, this kind of thing.

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Are you surprised how seriously the work to rule has affected electricity supplies?

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We're all a bit surprised at the speed with which the overtime ban and work to rule has bitten.

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The general public were very angry. Some people would not serve electricity supply workers in shops.

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One of my power stations was Leicester Power Station

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and I remember looking at the gate, waiting for the Ladies of Leicester Town.

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The housewives had decided they were going to march on the power station.

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It was surprising to the trade unions

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and they discovered that they couldn't control it.

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And they were as highly motivated as the management of the industry

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to get this problem resolved.

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'When even the Houses of Parliament lost power

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'and needed an emergency generator,

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'both sides knew it was time to settle.

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'Only a week after the dispute started, the lights were back on.'

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You're back on the ward now.

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It was about three or four days before I finally got the operation

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and then when I did have it, I found they had no ice cream

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cos the freezers hadn't been running.

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And that was the big disappointment, to be honest!

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Has it all been worthwhile, Mr Chapple?

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Well, that's very difficult to say.

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I think we all understand a bit more clearly

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what's at stake when an action of this sort is embarked upon.

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The real seats of power in Britain,

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while we might think of them as the House of Commons, Parliament,

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but actually, we need electric power, the power stations are the real seat of contemporary power.

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'And in 1971, three quarters of our power stations relied on one fuel.

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'British coal was king.'

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There was a great awareness on the part of ministers, the press

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and the public, that the electricity grid depended

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very substantially on coal.

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Everybody was aware of that. And, of course, so were the miners.

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And that is what gave them, as it were, the handle.

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The grid produced electricity for the factories.

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It was the key industry, but they needed the coal.

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They needed the coal to produce the steam to drive the generators.

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That was hellish power, that. Hellish power.

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There's no question in my mind that the miners learned from the power dispute in 1970.

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So whereas at one time, a coal industry dispute, a miners' strike,

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might have very serious local consequences,

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only very, very rarely did it have national consequences.

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The possibility now was that a miners' strike could have major national consequences

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through destabilising the grid by denying it coal.

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'After a decade of watching their wages fall behind other workforces,

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'Britain's miners had had enough

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'and they had the stomach for a bloody battle.

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'In January 1972, all 280,000 of them came out on strike.

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'But numbers alone weren't going to be enough.

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'For maximum impact on the grid, they needed a strategy.'

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Are you suggesting there might be picket lines round power stations?

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Well, I'm saying there'll be picket lines around anywhere

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if it'll contribute towards the success of the exercise we're involved in.

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'Every morning at 8:30, the miners signed on for picket duty.'

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'Their aim was to move out and follow the course of the coal,

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'and that led them straight to the giant power stations of the Trent Valley.'

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The main target was actually the power stations.

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And it did need a very high level of intelligence and organisation on the part of the NUM.

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And this was an innovation in the conduct of industrial relations in this country.

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Previously, they'd basically sat around the collieries.

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Now they were moving out to stop the use of coal.

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And so one of the key developments that the NUM came up with in this period

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was what became known as flying pickets.

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You'd probably get a knock on the door. "Have your bag ready for six o'clock, we're away."

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My wife used to pack a bag for us and ensured us plenty of warm clothes

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because January, February time, it was cold. And it was cold.

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We didn't know where we were going, where we were sleeping, we didn't know anything.

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It was completely unknown.

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'The miners' aim was to stop anything getting through power station gates.'

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The NUM has always been extremely well organised, so it wasn't too difficult for them to do that.

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They had these tight-knit local communities

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and local NUM branches, and when Father says jump, they all jump.

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SHOUTING

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That's what we had to do.

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We were desperate. They were desperate.

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It was a question of who was the most desperate.

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I was station manager at Rugeley Power Station.

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I think we developed a siege mentality.

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They had a small tent arranged.

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We did some surveillance and found that they slept there during the night.

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So we arranged that our tankers arrived about four o'clock in the morning. They came straight through.

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I don't believe that. I don't believe it.

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The pickets were still asleep.

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If they fell asleep with a wagon, they must've been dead.

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They must have been dead. I don't believe it for one minute. Which power station?

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THEY LAUGH

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'Three weeks in, the miners' tactics had paid off.'

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'The government has already imposed a ban on the use of electricity for street lighting and advertising.'

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'The ban now also includes heating in offices,

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'shops, public halls and places of entertainment.'

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'But despite the discomfort, this time the public were more prepared to soldier on.'

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'Girls from a local factory demonstrated their sympathy for the strike in a lunchtime march past.'

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I think there was a very strong feeling that the miners

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were a really heroic band of men...

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..who did a very hard and dangerous and unpleasant job on our behalf.

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They were seen as a critical group of workers

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who played a major, critical role

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and who figured quite prominently in many popular images

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of what it meant to be British or English.

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'And a review of the miners' demands took a sympathetic stance.'

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"The tribunal recommends big increases for Britain's 280,000 miners."

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'Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath was forced to settle

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'and the miners returned to their pits victorious.

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'But industrial unrest rumbled on.

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'The following year, the miners put a ban on overtime.

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'And in the middle of an oil crisis,

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'Heath decided power would have to be rationed.'

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"We are limiting the use of electricity by almost all factories,

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"shops and offices to three days a week."

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On the days you're not allowed to use electricity,

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you can go in the office and operate and work

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as long as you don't use any electricity for heating or lighting.

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We were all quite young, so it was a bit of a laugh as much as anything.

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But the biggest thing was getting your customer's hair dry

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before the power went off

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and the dryers were gone and you couldn't dry their hair.

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You still had to do all your customers

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but in half the time.

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It was always felt, I think, that people would find ways round it. And they did, to some degree.

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I used to try and do three at a time.

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Some industries were producing almost as much as they would normally during those three days.

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You would set two under the dryer, comb one out

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-and it was like you were a robot.

-Absolutely. It was a production line.

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It was a ploy to get people to react against the miners.

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They were determined that they had to get public opinion away from the miners and back to the government.

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Heath out! Heath out!

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'With his offer of conciliation spurned by the miners,

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'Heath threw himself on the mercy of the public,

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'asking them, "Just who governs Britain?"

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'The miners' strike is presented as the issue which forces the government to go to the people.'

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He looked for the support of the people to say,

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"The people support the government, you must now do a proper settlement."

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Certainly, that's what he hoped, and that's the basis on which the government fought the election.

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'But Mr Heath didn't get the answer he'd been hoping for.'

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The overriding feeling of the public is that the government ought never to have got itself in such a pickle.

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How has it happened? Why are you making life so uncomfortable for us?

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'Mr Heath resigns. He leaves the way clear for Mr Harold Wilson to form a government.'

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The incoming Labour government, its basic objective was to ensure

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that the miners stayed in the pits.

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Hence this programme of investment in new collieries and existing collieries.

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They brought a plan for coal out which was absolutely magnificent as far as we were concerned.

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It was going to give us secure employment and decent wages.

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'The Tories retreated to the opposition benches to lick their wounds.'

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For the Conservatives, it was massively traumatic

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that the whole legacy of 1974 was basically, "How do we avoid this ever again?"

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'Coal may have been king, but when it came to feeding our grid,

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'there had long been pretenders to the throne.'

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Of course, we can make electricity out of any fuel, and do,

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but the future undoubtedly lies with nuclear energy.

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'As far back as the early 1950s,

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'Britain had been at the forefront of nuclear research.'

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We were a little bit like pop stars in our own right.

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I once went to a conference and the News Chronicle, I think,

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had headlines on the front page, "Atom Man Will Be There."

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It's not bad if you're a young man.

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It was a glamorous industry.

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Clever young men in white coats

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doing mysterious things that nobody understood

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and producing power out of what appeared to be a little slug of metal.

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It was obviously much more interesting and impressive than dirty old coal mining.

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'British scientists had unlocked the secret of the atom.

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'The source of power may have been tiny

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'but it seemed to have one massive advantage.'

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Now, that is uranium.

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-'This one pellet of fuel...'

-'One tonne of uranium...'

-One fuel assembly...

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-'..will release as much energy as...'

-'..a tonne of...'

-..2,600 tonnes...

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-'..10,000 tonnes...'

-..40,000 million tonnes of coal.

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The vision, in the 1950s, was that over time,

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nuclear power would become the dominant,

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possibly even the sole source of electricity, and beyond that.

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And the conscious, planned, purposive use of scientific progress

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to provide undreamed-of living standards

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and the possibility of leisure, ultimately, on an unbelievable scale.

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We were the very first country in the world

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to feed nuclear power into the National Grid.

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It is with pride that I now open Calder Hall,

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Britain's first atomic power station.

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'Now we produce more nuclear energy for peaceful purposes

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'than any other country in the world, half of the world total.'

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'For once, Britain seems to have outstripped all other runners.'

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'Throughout the 1960s,

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'our first model of nuclear power station, the Magnox, sprung up.

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'But although there were 11 of them in total,

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'they made up less than a tenth of our capacity to produce electricity.'

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There was no doubt that the Magnox stations did work.

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They were, in retrospect, expensive, but considering they were the first generation, they did well.

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Nevertheless, it was clear they would have to do better in the long term.

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'Determined to hold onto their position as world leaders,

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'British nuclear scientists set about designing something altogether shinier, bigger and better.'

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So a major research effort went into the so-called Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor

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as the natural successor to the Magnox programme.

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'Enhanced Gas-Cooled Reactor,

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'prototype of the next stage in the development of reactors.'

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We'd done really quite well and thought we were pretty well on top of gas cooling.

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The British were very self-confident.

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The AGR fitted into this new mood in which Britain would be technologically superior to the world

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and it was thought to be a kind of spearhead of the British technological and export effort

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and the AGR would be the leading edge of new British technology, it would conquer the world.

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'British scientists seemed to be leading the field once again.

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'But just before the grid placed an order for its first AGR,

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'scientists from the United States steamed up on the inside lane.'

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The Americans had big firms which could supply complete power stations

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and were economically and technically very, very strong indeed.

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They had very strong and aggressive drive

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to spread American nuclear technology around the world.

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'The Americans had come up with their own design for a reactor.

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'One cooled with water rather than gas.

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'Both designs placed their bids for the business of the grid

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'in a head-to-head competition.

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'But as far as the British were concerned,

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'the American design had one clear disadvantage.'

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-NIH.

-Not invented here.

-It wasn't invented here.

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The Atomic Energy Authority saw the American design as a sort of routine technology.

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It wasn't seen as elegant science, if you know what I mean.

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Scientists were making the decisions in those days.

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'With their thoroughbred model, the home team was bound to impress.'

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'In May 1965, the British government announced that,

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'in face of competition from other established systems,

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'the first station of Britain's second nuclear power programme

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'will use the AGR, the Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor.'

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I think that was entirely due to the Atomic Energy Authority insisting that we built British,

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that we had been the leaders of the technology and we should stay the leaders of the technology.

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'The recipient of Britain's first AGR

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'was to be Dungeness on the Kent coast.

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'Expectations were high. However, there was just one potential hiccup.'

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The long-term concern I would have is that we are the only country in the world building AGRs.

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It simply means that if we ever did have any trouble with them,

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we're the only people who know about them.

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'Undeterred, in the summer of 1965,

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'Britain embarked on the construction of the AGR at Dungeness.

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'In a remote corner of Wales, though,

0:23:490:23:51

'another group of pioneers were hard at work on finding a very different fuel source for the grid.'

0:23:510:23:58

People were very suspicious,

0:23:590:24:02

not knowing what was happening there and curious.

0:24:020:24:07

People thought of them as hippies and dropouts, flower people if you like.

0:24:080:24:13

They rang to say about the delivery of the timber.

0:24:130:24:17

We thought they were rather childish.

0:24:170:24:19

'But local suspicions wouldn't stop an English aristocrat from realising his vision.'

0:24:210:24:26

We believe that, in the Western world,

0:24:290:24:32

we've been burning up our resources at an extremely prodigal rate.

0:24:320:24:37

We're beginning to realise we're going to have to develop

0:24:370:24:40

a style of life which is much more self-sufficient,

0:24:400:24:43

much less dependent on outside resources.

0:24:430:24:46

We're going to have to conserve the very finite resources of the Earth.

0:24:460:24:50

'Using private funding, Gerard Morgan Grenville founded

0:24:510:24:55

'the grandly named Centre for Alternative Technology.'

0:24:550:24:59

It did feel like a really new thing.

0:25:070:25:10

We knew of one or two other things in the USA and so on,

0:25:100:25:14

but in Britain, there really wasn't much like that,

0:25:140:25:16

certainly practical on-the-ground stuff.

0:25:160:25:19

We didn't really know what we were working towards.

0:25:200:25:23

We had this vague idea that we were trying to look at sustainability

0:25:230:25:26

and use energy in the different way, but quite how, I don't think we knew.

0:25:260:25:31

'In an attempt to prove their schemes were more than just pie in the sky,

0:25:310:25:35

'they took the bold step of going off-grid.

0:25:350:25:39

'At the centre, they'd have to rely on their new technologies entirely.'

0:25:390:25:44

We had just about gone onto the mains electricity in those days

0:25:440:25:48

and we'd left our turbines and our generating sets and our wind turbines

0:25:480:25:52

and we were glorifying in the new electricity mains that had recently arrived

0:25:520:25:57

and these people come along and they wanted to go back to what we'd just got rid of.

0:25:570:26:01

We here, for instance, are going to show that you can produce electrical energy

0:26:010:26:06

from windmills,

0:26:060:26:09

you can produce heat from the power of the sun through solar heaters,

0:26:090:26:15

that you can build houses which conserve their heat energy by better insulation.

0:26:150:26:22

The first electricity-producing equipment we had on site

0:26:250:26:29

was a small water turbine which we were given

0:26:290:26:32

which produced a couple of kilowatts of electricity.

0:26:320:26:36

And for quite a long time, that provided lighting around the site.

0:26:360:26:39

A lot of the renewable energy technologies were themselves in a very early stage of development.

0:26:400:26:46

We did end up with quite a few non-functional items.

0:26:460:26:50

'The centre aspired to be a power station.

0:26:510:26:54

'But apart from technical problems,

0:26:540:26:57

'it was still some way off getting the rest of Britain to see the light.'

0:26:570:27:00

SONG: "Theme from The Good Life"

0:27:000:27:02

-This might look like an old diesel generator to you.

-Yes, it does.

-That's because it is.

0:27:020:27:07

-Except that it's fuelled by methane.

-Very ingenious but it'll never work.

0:27:070:27:11

No, clever dick? Switch the light on, will you?

0:27:110:27:14

Ooh. The glare. It's dazzling me.

0:27:160:27:20

I thought it took the Mickey just about appropriately.

0:27:230:27:27

'Renewable energy might not have been quite ready to plug into the grid,

0:27:280:27:33

'but at Dungeness, the flagship of Britain's nuclear programme was some way off, too.

0:27:330:27:38

'Ten years into construction, five years behind schedule

0:27:400:27:44

'and nowhere near completion.'

0:27:440:27:47

'The first AGR sits becalmed in the middle of the bird sanctuary of Dungeness like some large albatross.

0:27:470:27:52

'It haunts the future of the British nuclear power programme.'

0:27:520:27:56

'Why did we ever choose to build a reactor system as difficult as the AGR?'

0:27:560:28:00

Nobody has a clue how much it's going to cost us.

0:28:000:28:04

So, why is it that things have gone wrong?

0:28:040:28:07

AGRs were undoubtedly a very complex technology.

0:28:090:28:12

It was thought to be a very clever design and a very safe design,

0:28:120:28:15

but it was never built because of its simplicity. It was an inherently complex machine.

0:28:150:28:20

'Within the first few years, it was found that the boilers wouldn't fit into the reactors.

0:28:210:28:26

'A giant central heating system in pieces with the boiler stuck in the front door.'

0:28:260:28:32

We totally underestimated the development work you really need to do

0:28:320:28:37

on a design of a nuclear power station before you start work.

0:28:370:28:41

They really were developed during building, and you can't do that with power technology.

0:28:410:28:46

Dungeness is doing particularly badly,

0:28:460:28:49

but there's still a very strong constituency for technological nationalism.

0:28:490:28:53

Many people in the Atomic Energy Authority

0:28:530:28:55

still think that it's a good and safe design and we should follow it.

0:28:550:28:59

'With no end in sight at Dungeness, undeterred once again,

0:28:590:29:04

'scientists were already hard at work on four more AGRs.

0:29:040:29:08

'But in the outside world, the nuclear industry was beginning to lose some of its sheen.'

0:29:080:29:15

I don't think that, generally, the public were fully aware,

0:29:170:29:21

at the time when the Queen opened Calder Hall,

0:29:210:29:28

that Calder Hall was essentially a weapons plant.

0:29:280:29:32

It was not a deception but it was definitely a spin.

0:29:320:29:39

People who want the peaceful uses of nuclear energy

0:29:400:29:44

have to face the fact that the explosive powers of uranium

0:29:440:29:49

cannot be denied.

0:29:490:29:52

And this is the problem that we are still wrestling with.

0:29:530:29:58

'A connection was being forged in the public consciousness

0:29:590:30:02

'between technology, science and something other than a bright future.'

0:30:020:30:07

There was one great event in the world

0:30:070:30:10

which had an unexpected consequence for nuclear power and that was the Vietnam War.

0:30:100:30:15

The war resulted in some destruction of the environment

0:30:160:30:19

and triggered a worldwide environmental movement.

0:30:190:30:23

All the values that had driven the previous generation for modernism, technological progress,

0:30:260:30:33

suddenly were turned on their heads.

0:30:330:30:37

I am of that generation who very much

0:30:370:30:42

succumbed to the view that we didn't want anything to do with any of it.

0:30:420:30:46

It was spooky. Everything was spooky about nuclear power.

0:30:460:30:50

There was a lot of anxiety attached to it.

0:30:500:30:53

'In Sweden, in France, Japan and West Germany,

0:30:550:30:58

'expansion plans for the nuclear industry have been met with protest and sometimes violence.'

0:30:580:31:04

'This wave of opposition would hit British shores

0:31:070:31:10

'when preparations began on the east coast of Scotland

0:31:100:31:13

'on the final AGR to be connected to the grid.'

0:31:130:31:16

The first time we went to Torness was May 1978

0:31:200:31:24

and that was really just a festival.

0:31:240:31:26

However, the level of support we received during that week

0:31:280:31:32

from people living locally, who just came in their droves,

0:31:320:31:36

was so overwhelming that at the end of the week,

0:31:360:31:40

some of us who'd been involved said, "Right, we aren't going home, we're staying."

0:31:400:31:45

By being here, it would appear that we are acting as some kind of focus

0:31:480:31:51

for all the doubts and fears that the majority of people would seem to feel about nuclear power.

0:31:510:31:57

A very simple idea. It was just take over a cottage, make it a home, make it a community.

0:32:000:32:05

In retrospect, it looks fairly simple compared to

0:32:050:32:09

the sophisticated things protesters do now, like digging tunnels

0:32:090:32:12

or climbing trees or chaining themselves to bits of machinery

0:32:120:32:17

and living in protest sites for years, but it was the start of those kind of things.

0:32:170:32:23

They decided they were going to come and bulldoze us into the sea.

0:32:240:32:28

'They'd occupied this site determined to prevent a nuclear power station.'

0:32:290:32:32

People did extraordinary things, like climbing into bulldozers, and there were quite a few arrests.

0:32:320:32:38

'Then the diggers and shovels moved in.'

0:32:390:32:42

I remember being quite annoyed that I have very small hands

0:32:430:32:47

so I wasn't awfully good at hanging onto this digger and I was shaken off quite easily

0:32:470:32:52

but somebody with a bigger hand and a stronger grip could stay on longer.

0:32:520:32:56

But it was scary. Of course it was.

0:32:560:32:58

I can almost feel it now.

0:32:580:33:00

It didn't achieve its primary objective of stopping Torness, cos it's been built,

0:33:050:33:09

but we did form the basis of an anti-nuclear power movement,

0:33:090:33:13

we did form the basis of non-violent direct action

0:33:130:33:16

and we helped change the climate of public opinion in Britain against nuclear power.

0:33:160:33:21

'But whilst the protestors were struggling to halt the building of new power stations,

0:33:220:33:28

'the nuclear industry itself was struggling to make them run.

0:33:280:33:32

'Dungeness B, now 14 years into construction, still wasn't finished.'

0:33:320:33:37

Dungeness B did not start up until 1982.

0:33:390:33:43

And even after the plant started up,

0:33:430:33:45

it worked at less than five percent of its rated output for many years.

0:33:450:33:50

It has been an embarrassment, almost unique.

0:33:500:33:55

I don't think you can have the experience we've had

0:33:550:33:58

with the Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor without expecting some blame.

0:33:580:34:04

-Do you feel you were wrong?

-Yes.

0:34:040:34:07

'And there was one woman who certainly agreed.

0:34:080:34:11

'New Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher championed nuclear

0:34:110:34:15

'but she wasn't having any truck with underperformance.'

0:34:150:34:18

Margaret was a scientist and had always understood

0:34:200:34:23

the huge advantage of utilising this almost underused source of power.

0:34:230:34:30

She always supported my view that we ought to be building light water reactors

0:34:320:34:36

and not these ridiculous gas-cooled reactors. And eventually we got Sizewell.

0:34:360:34:40

'The Central Electricity Generating Board has named the site

0:34:430:34:47

'for its first American system pressurised water nuclear reactor

0:34:470:34:51

'at Sizewell on the Suffolk coast at a cost of about £1,000 billion.'

0:34:510:34:56

For me, at that time, it was very exciting,

0:34:560:34:58

because Mrs Thatcher had decided we were going to build

0:34:580:35:02

nuclear power stations and we were going to use the American design.

0:35:020:35:05

We were joining the club, if you like.

0:35:050:35:08

This is it, Bob, it's the stage three consent.

0:35:080:35:11

She wanted us to build ten identical designs.

0:35:110:35:13

From an engineering and commercial point of view, that was what we'd needed to hear for a very long time.

0:35:130:35:18

'But a strategy for nuclear was just one part of Thatcher's plan to redraw the power map of Britain.'

0:35:180:35:25

The nuclear industry depended on scientists and engineers

0:35:260:35:32

who were not the sort of people one expected to strike.

0:35:320:35:36

'And the massive investment in coal pits conceded at the end of the last miners' strike

0:35:360:35:41

'had had an unforeseen consequence.'

0:35:410:35:44

By the end of the 1970s, into the early 1980s,

0:35:440:35:48

coal production is surging, coal is piling up at the pit heads,

0:35:480:35:52

it's piling up in the stocking grounds, but the market for coal is actually contracting.

0:35:520:35:56

And the net result of this is a crisis of overproduction.

0:35:560:36:00

And the only response that the Coal Board has is to close pits.

0:36:000:36:04

Everybody knew Thatcher was coming.

0:36:050:36:07

She'd said she was going to get us when she came to power in '79.

0:36:070:36:11

She made no secret of the fact that she wanted revenge

0:36:110:36:14

for what the miners had done in '72 and '74.

0:36:140:36:17

Scargill was asking for the impossible.

0:36:190:36:21

For him to simply say not a single coal mine must be closed,

0:36:210:36:24

not a single miner was to lose their job was utterly and totally unrealistic.

0:36:240:36:28

But Scargill was right. And he said, "She's coming for you, she hasn't appointed Macgregor for nothing,

0:36:280:36:34

-"Macgregor's come to close pits."

-Would the prospect of a strike

0:36:340:36:38

-make you think again about your plans to close these pits?

-No.

0:36:380:36:42

This is going to happen whether we have a strike or not.

0:36:420:36:45

Now, we either stand up and fight like men

0:36:450:36:47

or you go down on your knees and you bow down to it. It's your choice.

0:36:470:36:51

The Coal Board, the government, is about to embark on a wide-ranging pit closure programme.

0:36:550:37:02

And this time the argument was there was nowhere else

0:37:020:37:05

for the displaced miner to go. There were no more coalfields to move to.

0:37:050:37:09

This was about massive job losses, pit closures,

0:37:090:37:13

destruction of communities and so on and so forth. Not about pay, about pit closures.

0:37:130:37:18

'56,000 miners to strike

0:37:190:37:22

'and Ian Macgregor takes a tough line.'

0:37:220:37:25

They provoked us in March, right at the end of winter.

0:37:250:37:29

So that first bit of the strike was all the way through the summer.

0:37:290:37:34

Which, from the electricity generating industry's point of view

0:37:340:37:37

was ideal, because that's the time

0:37:370:37:41

when you stop pressing that switch,

0:37:410:37:44

when you don't need the lights as much.

0:37:440:37:46

The electricity generating industry is not using as much coal.

0:37:460:37:51

So they had the upper hand from the start.

0:37:520:37:55

The '72 and '74 had geed us up a bit, but that was a long time ago and things had changed a lot.

0:37:570:38:03

We knew we had a battle on our hands.

0:38:030:38:05

'Hostilities broke out as police kept open the routes

0:38:060:38:10

'for lorry drivers to move essential supplies

0:38:100:38:13

'across picket lines and into coal-fired power stations.'

0:38:130:38:17

SHOUTING

0:38:170:38:20

'But away from the traditional fields of conflict,

0:38:230:38:26

'there were now sleeping giants in the grid network.'

0:38:260:38:29

'For nearly five months, the Isle of Grain oil-fired power station in Kent,

0:38:320:38:37

'scheduled to be the biggest in Europe, has stood idle.'

0:38:370:38:41

I decided to move to Grain, as it was going to be the largest oil-fired power station in Europe.

0:38:430:38:50

Oil prices went through the roof

0:38:500:38:53

due to problems in the Middle East

0:38:530:38:57

and we just didn't get generation.

0:38:570:38:59

We were sat around waiting for the call that never came and there were months went past, sometimes,

0:38:590:39:06

where we just didn't do any generation.

0:39:060:39:09

'To keep the lights on during the strike,

0:39:090:39:12

'the grid's chairman roused Britain's slumbering oil-fired power stations

0:39:120:39:16

'and sparked them into life.'

0:39:160:39:18

If we are making electricity with oil

0:39:200:39:23

then we don't have to make it with coal.

0:39:230:39:26

We were suddenly back in the limelight and we were expected to get up and running.

0:39:290:39:36

We were then doing what we were there to do.

0:39:360:39:39

We've got problems, particularly from inside Grain Power Station,

0:39:390:39:42

which since our dispute has been on, has been going out all the time

0:39:420:39:47

and making a big contribution to the National Grid.

0:39:470:39:50

A lot of us were torn with the fact that we supported the miners, being trade unionists,

0:39:510:39:56

but our station was suddenly back on the map.

0:39:560:40:00

'Before the strike, oil-fired power stations generated

0:40:010:40:05

'just four percent of our grid's needs.

0:40:050:40:08

'Now this rocketed to almost half. But at a cost.

0:40:080:40:13

'Four billion pounds.'

0:40:130:40:15

They were certainly one of the secret cards.

0:40:160:40:18

Expensive, but that was not the primary concern. The primary concern was to keep the lights on.

0:40:180:40:24

This was absolutely critical, because once the lights stayed on,

0:40:250:40:29

then the dispute could simply be projected as localised, something happening elsewhere,

0:40:290:40:34

and Mrs Thatcher was determined that whatever else happened, normal life would continue for most people.

0:40:340:40:41

Stop the power, stop the electricity, and they've got to go to the negotiating table.

0:40:420:40:48

They had to in '72, they had to in '74, '84 was no different.

0:40:480:40:53

They still would've had to go to the negotiating table.

0:40:530:40:56

Problem was, we couldn't stop the electricity.

0:40:560:40:59

'Not only was the grid calling on other fuel sources,

0:41:020:41:06

'the miners themselves were divided.'

0:41:060:41:09

I've been here since 5:30 this morning to come to work.

0:41:100:41:14

And I intend coming to work, not to picket my own pit.

0:41:140:41:18

'Pits in the Midlands were still producing tonnes of coal.'

0:41:200:41:24

I'd never been to Nottinghamshire before, ever.

0:41:280:41:30

I don't think most of us had. It was a lot more rural than I thought.

0:41:300:41:35

Quite northern in comparison with us southern softies.

0:41:350:41:39

I don't think anything could prepare any of us for the sheer scale of policing up in Nottingham.

0:41:400:41:45

It was an enormous event.

0:41:450:41:47

The biggest policing operation of the twentieth century and nothing's been repeated like it since.

0:41:480:41:53

We went down into Nottingham and that was scary.

0:41:540:41:57

It was like she surrounded the county with an army of police.

0:41:570:42:02

'Midlands pits were staying loyal to their biggest customer,

0:42:040:42:07

'the large power stations right on their doorstep.'

0:42:070:42:10

In the central coalfields, like Nottinghamshire,

0:42:120:42:14

with what appeared to be a secure future,

0:42:140:42:17

there was a strong sense of, "Why should we go on strike? Our future is secure" and so on.

0:42:170:42:23

'Six months in, the strike was playing out without a flicker in people's homes.

0:42:260:42:32

'Desperate to make an impact on the grid,

0:42:320:42:35

'the miners appealed to the public for support.'

0:42:350:42:38

There was the campaign Switch On At Six.

0:42:380:42:40

I do remember Switch On At Six.

0:42:410:42:44

And you'd find that the miners' spokesmen at the Commons,

0:42:440:42:47

like Dennis Skinner, were constantly rushing round switching everything on

0:42:470:42:52

because they thought that would damage the government's programme.

0:42:520:42:56

But it didn't seem to happen.

0:42:560:42:59

We weren't able to detect any effect at all.

0:42:590:43:01

It seemed to be a complete damp squib.

0:43:020:43:04

We were just getting on with our lives,

0:43:050:43:08

and that's quite worrying. It means the miners were, indeed,

0:43:080:43:12

becoming parts of history.

0:43:120:43:15

I think, by the 80s, attitudes to the miners had definitely changed.

0:43:190:43:23

I think we felt they were holding the country to ransom.

0:43:230:43:27

And in hindsight, I don't know if actually they were.

0:43:280:43:32

I think we had all become more selfish.

0:43:320:43:34

You were more concerned about your own economics and things,

0:43:360:43:40

rather than people as a whole.

0:43:400:43:44

And the miners were forced to surrender and they recognised...

0:43:460:43:50

They made the best of it as they could, marching with banners,

0:43:500:43:54

but the fact of the matter is they'd shot their bolt

0:43:540:43:57

and it had not hit its target and the country kept going.

0:43:570:44:01

'Britain's longest running national strike is over.

0:44:030:44:07

'Miners' delegates voted to end the strike without an agreement on pit closures.'

0:44:070:44:11

The old Britain was, right up to the end of the miners' strike,

0:44:130:44:17

about people who dug, shoed, delved, span, made things,

0:44:170:44:23

and the new Britain was going to be a much more effete world

0:44:230:44:27

of people who are just going to shop.

0:44:270:44:29

I certainly remember buying a computer.

0:44:330:44:36

All the neighbours were really jealous cos we got this big, tall fridge freezer that's great.

0:44:360:44:41

Commodore 64, that was my first computer. Then I advanced from that.

0:44:420:44:47

It was a Betamax recorder that we got

0:44:470:44:50

but then we had to move on, probably about '86, '87, we got the VHS.

0:44:500:44:55

I went down to London, I got a good job after the end of the strike and I got the latest colour television

0:44:560:45:02

and the latest microwave oven.

0:45:020:45:05

'And with consumerism at an all-time high,

0:45:050:45:08

'we were now offered the ultimate electrical fix.'

0:45:080:45:12

'Soon, anyone who uses electricity will be able to apply for shares.

0:45:120:45:17

'So you could buy into what you plug into.'

0:45:170:45:21

'In privatising the entire electricity industry,

0:45:220:45:26

'Thatcher planned to sell power to the people.'

0:45:260:45:30

We bought shares in all the newly-privatising companies. We did quite well out of them.

0:45:340:45:40

'The government's biggest privatisation is already an unqualified success.'

0:45:410:45:45

I hadn't got any money to spare.

0:45:460:45:49

Everybody needs it. It's a good bet.

0:45:490:45:52

We were caught up in this. Everything was wonderful.

0:45:520:45:55

People were allowed, for the first time in their life, to have shares. Working-class people.

0:45:550:46:00

Yes, we bought shares in electricity.

0:46:000:46:04

'But the package people were buying wasn't quite the one the government had hoped to sell.'

0:46:050:46:10

'In preparing the deal, the City had been taking a long, hard look at the books.'

0:46:120:46:19

In 1988, when the government introduced the privatisation white paper,

0:46:190:46:23

I got a call asking me to join James Caple, who had been appointed

0:46:230:46:27

the government's broker in charge of the privatisation.

0:46:270:46:30

Now, the trouble that we had is that before privatisation,

0:46:310:46:35

I think it's fair to say, the accounts of the CGB weren't looked at too hard by the auditors.

0:46:350:46:41

That world was over.

0:46:410:46:43

'The finances of the entire industry were scrutinised.

0:46:450:46:48

'But there was one particular sector that would really feel the heat. Nuclear.'

0:46:480:46:53

Then we established a number of hit teams

0:46:550:46:58

that went round the nuclear industry and the more and more they looked,

0:46:580:47:01

the more and more there were costs that were guessed.

0:47:010:47:04

When they delved into it, they could see lots of them were underestimates.

0:47:040:47:08

I think we got carried away with the science of nuclear power

0:47:100:47:14

and the way the industry was structured was the public sector Atomic Energy Authority.

0:47:140:47:19

It led to a position where decisions were taken

0:47:190:47:23

that had no commercial basis at all.

0:47:230:47:26

'And prospective buyers were troubled by something of an accounting oversight.'

0:47:270:47:32

The other problem in those days was it was being pushed by the scientists

0:47:320:47:36

that wanted to move onto the next design. And they didn't think very hard about decommissioning.

0:47:360:47:43

At the time, one of the Financial Times newsletters

0:47:440:47:47

carried out an analysis that suggested that

0:47:470:47:49

the decommissioning cost for the existing nuclear plants

0:47:490:47:53

might amount to as much as £15 billion, at the time,

0:47:530:47:57

which was likely to be more than the government would raise from the sale of the entire electricity system.

0:47:570:48:03

The difficulty with radioactivity is that you can't shut it off.

0:48:050:48:08

So it is a long-term problem.

0:48:080:48:10

And it's a long-term cost, because you can't just go away and leave it.

0:48:100:48:14

It was assumed the taxpayer would pick up the tab.

0:48:150:48:19

But if you're selling the power stations,

0:48:190:48:21

people who might be tempted to buy them will say,

0:48:210:48:24

"Is the taxpayer going to pick up the tab or are we going to have to pay?"

0:48:240:48:28

The first reaction was, "Until we know what it is, we can't possibly bid." So they were withdrawn.

0:48:280:48:33

'The government is expected to abandon the privatisation of nuclear power this afternoon.'

0:48:340:48:39

'..her government is admitting the cost of that power is simply too high to sustain

0:48:390:48:44

'within Britain's privatised electricity industry.'

0:48:440:48:48

The government was extremely angry when they found out about the cost of nuclear

0:48:480:48:52

and thought they should've known beforehand. Don't forget that Lord Marshall

0:48:520:48:57

had been Thatcher's friend because of the miners' strike. He was sacked.

0:48:570:49:03

'And with Marshall went Thatcher's plan for a nuclear grid.

0:49:050:49:10

'In the new liberalised energy market,

0:49:110:49:14

'private companies would opt for gas-fired power stations.

0:49:140:49:18

'Britain's AGRs were now all running but the government scrapped plans for any further nuclear power.

0:49:190:49:26

'Sizewell B, already halfway through construction,

0:49:270:49:31

'would be Britain's first and last American-style reactor.'

0:49:310:49:35

Sizewell B was designed by the architects of Gatwick Airport

0:49:350:49:39

and they were able to push for a building with some charisma.

0:49:390:49:44

The ceramic dome on the top of the building really does make it look like a temple, a temple of power,

0:49:460:49:51

and that was very definitely an attempt to give power production,

0:49:510:49:56

electricity production, nuclear energy

0:49:560:49:59

that sense of being connected back to a world where it was hugely respected.

0:49:590:50:05

When we finally got it right, nuclear power had fallen out of favour

0:50:080:50:12

because of the very poor performance of the AGR power stations.

0:50:120:50:15

I've not visited Sizewell for some time. I find it painful.

0:50:150:50:20

It reminds me of what might have been. Reminds me of what might have been.

0:50:200:50:24

'Nuclear power was finally partly privatised six years later.

0:50:270:50:32

'But to date, no commercial company has built a nuclear power station without government subsidy.

0:50:320:50:39

'So far, they have proved too financially risky.

0:50:390:50:42

'Instead, cheap North Sea gas became the City's favourite fuel.

0:50:420:50:48

'And it was gas that finally took King Coal's crown.

0:50:480:50:52

We, in Britain, have got the most incredible energy resources

0:50:520:50:57

and I think, because we have, we have never really husbanded them

0:50:570:51:03

in the way that we should've done.

0:51:030:51:05

We've just used the oil we had,

0:51:050:51:08

we've used the coal we've had

0:51:080:51:11

and then we've used the gas we've had.

0:51:110:51:13

And now we are importing increasing amounts

0:51:130:51:17

and that must have some implications for our security.

0:51:170:51:22

Power starts to become something that we purchase on world markets.

0:51:240:51:28

It can be diverted here and there, the grid can feed here,

0:51:280:51:31

it's seen as a virtue that we're versatile in this way.

0:51:310:51:35

It's another aspect of our modernity.

0:51:350:51:38

Then there's no elemental connection to the power station any more.

0:51:410:51:45

The power station floats free.

0:51:450:51:47

It's only with the arrival of environmental consciousness at a widespread level

0:51:470:51:51

that the power stations begin to come instantiated again,

0:51:510:51:55

begin to kind of beam down again and be there.

0:51:550:51:58

'The power station is now back in our consciousness.

0:51:590:52:03

'Like never before, questions are being asked about who owns them,

0:52:030:52:08

what feeds them and even, "Do you want one of your very own?"

0:52:080:52:13

-It's going to pick up about ten o'clock tonight.

-Yep, eight miles an hour.

-Yep.

0:52:210:52:27

So this is the barn where the meters for the wind turbine are housed.

0:52:300:52:35

On the Sunday, it'll be good.

0:52:380:52:40

This meter is the total generation meter,

0:52:410:52:44

which measures the total amount of electricity that the wind turbine produces.

0:52:440:52:49

Certainly, my parents were very supportive.

0:52:500:52:53

I think Neil's parents were less supportive, weren't they?

0:52:530:52:57

Maybe it's the fact that they live next door. But, certainly, there was a slight opposition from them.

0:52:570:53:03

I didn't like the idea of it at all.

0:53:030:53:06

I thought it might spoil the view from my kitchen window.

0:53:060:53:10

And I thought, "Where do I buy some gelignite?"

0:53:100:53:14

But that feeling went and Neil explained that it might save me on the electricity.

0:53:140:53:21

So that's the real reason. Finance.

0:53:210:53:25

The import meter's showing units we've bought from the National Grid.

0:53:260:53:31

And the export meter is showing units sold to the National Grid.

0:53:310:53:37

The amount we use in a year on the farm and the two houses is about 4,000 kilowatts.

0:53:370:53:43

The turbine averaging over the year is going to produce about 18,000 kilowatts.

0:53:430:53:49

So we're actually going to be exporting to the grid about 14,000 kilowatts per year.

0:53:490:53:54

I find it a wonderful thought that I could pump electricity back into the National Grid

0:53:560:54:01

and it's as if one can actually take power, literally, into one's own hands.

0:54:010:54:07

Power to the people.

0:54:070:54:10

'But the people are, as ever, divided about the impact of the grid on our landscape.'

0:54:110:54:16

In many ways, the modern windmill is a return to the past,

0:54:170:54:21

those Dutch old masters, the slow, lazy swing of the blades glinting in the sunlight,

0:54:210:54:27

the clouds passing, it's quite a traditional image.

0:54:270:54:30

Aesthetically, they're like an array of Meccano models on the skyline.

0:54:320:54:37

I prefer my skylines without them.

0:54:370:54:40

I think of wind turbines as wind creatures.

0:54:420:54:46

When I see a great field of them with their sails seeming to stitch the sky to the horizon,

0:54:470:54:54

as if they're making a garment of the world in that way, I think that they're incredibly hopeful.

0:54:540:55:00

I often wonder what the public's reaction to electricity pylons was when they were first erected.

0:55:010:55:07

Something none of us look at nowadays.

0:55:070:55:10

I'm sure if we have thousands of wind turbines,

0:55:100:55:13

in a few years' time, we won't give them a second look, either.

0:55:130:55:16

'Since the first pylon went up,

0:55:180:55:21

'we've believed plugging in was progress.

0:55:210:55:25

'Now, for the first time in our grid's history,

0:55:250:55:28

'we're having to consider the merits, instead, of switching off.'

0:55:280:55:33

You don't open the tap until you put the plug in the bath.

0:55:330:55:36

The thing to do is to stop thinking entirely about supply

0:55:360:55:39

and start thinking about how we use it first.

0:55:390:55:42

Then it'll be a lot easier to supply what we actually need.

0:55:420:55:45

You know, it's ask not what the grid can do for you, to paraphrase JF Kennedy,

0:55:450:55:51

but ask only what you can do for it.

0:55:510:55:54

'Throughout the life of our grid,

0:55:560:55:58

'different fuels have waxed and waned under its patronage.

0:55:580:56:02

'And decisions taken in its name have shaped not just our physical

0:56:020:56:06

'but our political landscape.

0:56:060:56:09

'75 years on, our energy map is changing once again.'

0:56:100:56:15

The UK is going to have coal plants come offline,

0:56:150:56:19

we're going to have nuclear power plants come to the end of their life.

0:56:190:56:23

At the most extreme, people are talking about

0:56:230:56:26

half, three quarters of our generation stopping within the next ten, 20 years.

0:56:260:56:33

We have to fulfil our renewable energy directive,

0:56:330:56:36

which means that 20 percent of our energy has to come from renewables by 2020.

0:56:360:56:41

That should be viewed as an opportunity.

0:56:410:56:45

'So now, just how will we choose to keep the lights on?'

0:56:450:56:50

The great thing about coal is you can store it on site.

0:56:520:56:55

With a gas-fired power station, you're at the end of a long pipeline.

0:56:550:56:59

So coal has a role to play for years to come, but a reduced role,

0:56:590:57:02

and we have to clean it up using a technology called carbon capture and storage.

0:57:020:57:07

To live without electricity would quickly be almost impossible.

0:57:070:57:12

I don't think we, as a nation, are capable of doing that.

0:57:120:57:15

Gas power stations can be very flexible,

0:57:150:57:18

they can be ramped up when we need it and that's why we need to continue to keep gas

0:57:180:57:22

right at the heart of energy in the UK.

0:57:220:57:24

I wouldn't mind living without electricity for a month a year. That'd be quite good.

0:57:250:57:29

It'd be quite a challenge and it'd be quite educational to see what you could and couldn't do.

0:57:290:57:34

So if our grid and our wind farms

0:57:340:57:36

are spread across the country and offshore,

0:57:360:57:39

then we can guarantee a secure supply.

0:57:390:57:42

The wind will always be blowing somewhere.

0:57:420:57:45

-Dark.

-Horrendous.

-Cold.

0:57:450:57:48

-Yeah.

-Children! They can't live without central heating.

-Pretty dull, really.

0:57:480:57:52

Nuclear power generation not only helps us to reduce our carbon emissions,

0:57:530:57:58

but maintains our security of supply, helping to maintain

0:57:580:58:01

a standard of living that we're all used to here in the UK.

0:58:010:58:04

You don't need a lot of power.

0:58:040:58:06

I think I could happily exist on a very small amount of electricity,

0:58:060:58:11

but enough to make some electronics doable.

0:58:110:58:13

Yeah, that's probably true of you. Definitely.

0:58:130:58:16

I mean, life would stop, wouldn't it?

0:58:160:58:19

I prefer not to think about it.

0:58:190:58:21

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:280:58:32

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:320:58:36

.

0:58:360:58:36

Miners, nuclear scientists, politicians, environmentalists and even the City have all wrestled for control of the national electricity grid and the power that it has brought.

The final film in this history of the grid charts how it has been the battleground for conflicts that have changed and shaped Britain. Key players from the miners' strikes reveal why the industrial action of the 70s and 80s had such different impacts on electricity supply. The film also uncovers how Britain lost her lead in the field of nuclear power.

Contributors include former conservative cabinet minister Lord Jenkin, author Will Self and veterans of all the different fuels. They examine the cost of our love affair with power and consider the perils of life without it.


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