Imagine, while you were getting ready for work this morning, you saw your company’s director of health and safety on the TV. Turning up the volume, you hear him advising the company’s workers ‘not to have children’. What would your reaction be?
That’s exactly what happened at the Sellafield nuclear facility in the north-west of England 20 years ago. After a study that suggested a link between the exposure of Sellafield’s staff to radiation and the instances of cancer in their children, Roger Berry, the director of health and safety at the company, also suggested establishing a sperm bank and recruiting ‘"radiation volunteers" from among older workers in order to reduce levels of exposure for workers of child-bearing age.’
The story is revealed in the autobiography of Harold Bolter, a former director of British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), the company that used to run Sellafield. He calls Berry’s announcement a ‘public relations disaster’ and speaks of his anxiety to ‘protect the company’. The ‘disaster’ of what this did to Sellafield’s workers and what was done to ‘protect’ them and their children, beyond the offer of ‘medical counselling’, isn’t recorded.
Bolter’s book’s foreword is written by Bernard Ingham. After being UK Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary, Ingham became an adviser to BNFL. He spent 25 years, as he himself described, ‘trying to preserve nuclear power’ and once wrote ‘nuclear power is greener than windfarms’.
That should give us an idea of how balanced Bolter’s approach to what went on at Sellafield might be. We’ve yet to see any wind turbine companies giving their employees family planning advice.