why didn’t this film ask the real questions?


Pumping coolant. Rod insertion mechanisms. Fast neutrons. Thanks to Craig Mazin’s magnificent Chernobyl, we are now all experts in nuclear reactors. Construction of Britain’s largest nuclear power plant (BBC Two) has sometimes referred to the “dark legacy” of the disaster, among other controversies surrounding the ongoing construction of Hinkley Point C in Somerset, but it was a largely joyous affair focused on the technical aspects, flabbergasted by the logistical challenges, impressed by the engineering feats and above all upset by the statistics.

The project includes two uranium reactors on a site the size of 250 football fields, generating 3.2 gigawatts of electricity for the next 60 years from 2025. Not enough numbers? How about 5.6 million cubic meters of excavated earth for the foundations of the reactor, filled in three days of continuous pouring with “nuclear grade” concrete? Or 120,000 liters of seawater pumped every second to cool the steam from the reactors? Or 316 tonnes of baked beans consumed per year by 5,000 workers on site? By the time they got to the giant boring machine, I was numb. Although there is something to be said for a movie that gives fried breakfasts an epic dimension.

With a zero carbon goal by 2050 and lingering skepticism about renewables, much hinges on the success of the project, the first of its kind in Europe. So it seemed a little odd that a local’s (admittedly very valid) complaints about trafficking were granted more airtime than, say, concerns about industrial espionage in a project funded in part by the Chinese state, or inflated budgets (from 18 billion to 22 billion pounds). Two of its three predicted predecessors in Finland and France remain on the ice due to “concerns about cost and quality”, a phrase both vague and serious enough to warrant further investigation, but doubts have been confined to the voiceover and not to the people involved. .

All those questioned underlined the progress of safety measures in the nuclear industry since the 1980s, accompanied by many undeniably reassuring examples of absolute professionalism. Unlike Chernobyl, the reactors will be housed inside a reinforced concrete fortress designed to withstand earthquakes, tsunamis and plane crashes. “I think the next time these foundations come up, it will probably be after the next ice age,” said construction chief and fortune hostage Mike Murphy. After all, director Mat Stimpson documented the construction of Crossrail in the BBC’s The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway: the presence of cameras is no guarantee of success.

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