The Secret Pro-Nuclear Push In British Schools

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BNFL Covertly Changes the Curriculum

In 2006, the national curriculum was changed so that it became compulsory for schools to teach all 14-16 year olds about nuclear power. The move was largely sparked by a report for the Department for Trade and Industry, published in 2003, about a possible future skills shortage in the nuclear industry.

The report concluded: “Although the nuclear sector does not have an immediate overall shortage, a number of ‘hot spots’ exist in disciplines such as safety case production and radiological protection. Postgraduate education and apprentice training are also in a fragile state, raising concerns about future workforce development. Conservative estimates suggest that the sector will require around 50,000 recruits over the next 15 years, excluding potential demand from new build.”

It also noted that: “Engineering and physical sciences are unpopular fields of study and unpopular career choices for young people; and nuclear and radiological technologies are unpopular choices in this unpopular field. Action to encourage more young people into these sectors is urgently needed.”

It recommended that the DTI should “work with the Nuffield Foundation to include nuclear and radiological related material in the 2005 review of the national curriculum.”

The Nuclear Skills Group, which produced the report for the DTI, was made up of Government officials and a panel of six ‘independent members’. In the report only one, Paul Thomas, was said to be working for BNFL. But NuclearSpin has discovered that two more members were also working for BNFL: [1]

The curriculum changes were introduced in September 2006. The nuclear industry has responded by pouring millions of pounds into ‘teaching aids’ that promote nuclear power and attract pupils to work in the industry.

Energy Foresight - "Promoting Misleading Propaganda"

One of the nuclear industry’s largest education projects is called Energy Foresight. It is run by a company called Young Foresight (Education and Training) Ltd, which is part of a larger group called Software Production Enterprises Ltd. SPE is run by former advertising executive and producer Norman Burrows MBE. According to its website SPE was set up in 1979 “to specialise in imaginative programmes for science, technology, education and medicine”. Its clients and funders include a range of government departments, the BBC, the NHS, Astra Zeneca and the Royal Academy of Engineering. [5] [6]

In 2000, Young Foresight Ltd unveiled a project called Young Foresight to help educate school children about design and technology. Its launch was backed by Lord Sainsbury. The project was launched by Lord David Sainsbury. [7]

Young Foresight Ltd has been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by nuclear organisations to develop a set of teaching materials “that present radioactivity and related issues in personal and social contexts” and is specifically designed “to support the new Science GCSE curriculum that comes into effect in September 2006.” The materials include three films, a teaching pack and a full day of training for teachers. [8] [9]

According to a funding document written by Energy Foresight, obtained by NuclearSpin, one of the aims of the curriculum change is to “change students’ (and teachers’) attitudes to, and perceptions of, nuclear issues and encourage positive interest in the nuclear sector as a source of future employment”. [10]

The first phase of the project was paid for by British Nuclear Group, RWE Nukem Limited, Cogent – a trade body for the chemical, oil, gas, nuclear, petroleum and polymer industries, which counts the former Head of Trade and Industry at Nuclear Industry Association, John Haddon on its board – Cumbria Learning and the North West Development Agency. An ‘independent’ £45,000 assessment of the pilot scheme, carried out by the Open University, was also part-funded by British Nuclear Group, RWE Nukem and Cogent. [11]

While Energy Foresight claims that its material presents the arguments for and against nuclear power fairly, the project has received considerable public backing from the British Nuclear Energy Society. In a letter to potential funders, BNFL President Sue Ion says: “I believe Energy Foresight is an extremely important project which holds out the prospect of changing perceptions of nuclear power both as a power source and as an industry offering worthwhile and rewarding career prospects”. [12]

But it has been criticized by independent nuclear consultant John Large as “a blatant piece of propaganda… it misleads”. [13]

Energy Foresight recently announced another tie-up – a £750,000 deal with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The money will pay for “a new film addressing nuclear waste and the NDA’s activities, together with updated materials and web site. As well as addressing the physics behind radioactivity, the materials highlight the employment opportunities in the nuclear industry in health, power, decommissioning, and waste management.” It’s clear that if you have enough money, you can pay to have your organization promoted to schoolchildren through such ‘educational materials’. [14]

Energy Foresight aims to extend the programme to 50 per cent of all secondary schools in the UK by mid-2009, but “biased towards those areas with the large nuclear presence”. [15]

The NDA makes no secret that the new teaching materials are aimed at turning today’s pupils into tomorrow’s nuclear engineers. In a press release, the NDA’s Head of Technology and Skills Development, Dr Ian Hudson, says: “It is important that young people have a good understanding of nuclear power and the issues surrounding radioactivity and nuclear waste. That’s why we are so pleased to be working with Energy Foresight on a project that brings that information and understanding into the classroom as part of the national curriculum. As we look to build a skilled workforce to deal with the UK’s existing nuclear legacy we hope that projects like this encourage young people to think seriously about careers in areas that rely on scientific skills and understanding.”

However, it remains unclear why the body charged with cleaning up the civil nuclear industry’s waste is spending three-quarters of a million pounds of taxpayers’ money to promote its views to schoolchildren. According to the DTI, the NDA’s focus should be “squarely on [dealing with] the nuclear legacy”. [16]

And it doesn’t stop there. Energy Foresight is appealing for yet more funding from the nuclear industry. Its website says: “We intend to complete the rollout to a total of over 2100 schools (50%) of the UK secondary schools by 2009. To do this we will, however, require considerable extra funding, and we are looking to the nuclear industry to assist us with this. If you feel you might be in a position to support the programme, please contact us.” [17]

An article written by Dr David Fishlock, a committee member of the Supporters of Nuclear Energy, includes some revealing comments made by Energy Foresight’s director, Peter Waller. “From the start it recognised there were many problems preventing students gaining a balanced understanding of the role of nuclear energy,” writes Fishlock. He adds that Waller said: “Our research confirmed some deep-rooted obstacles” to ‘understanding’ nuclear power” and gave five examples: • Most teachers appear anti-nuclear. • The government has in the past appeared to be anti-nuclear, although it has now instituted a full review of energy options - including nuclear- to report in summer 2006. • There’s not enough neutral material in schools – ‘the Greens have done a good job’. • Many parents are uncertain about nuclear energy and are ill-informed. • The omissions in the current curriculum do not help the situation. [18]

Fishlock welcomes the changes to the curriculum, saying they could “eventually lead to a radical change in public attitude to nuclear energy”. Until now, he noted, “pupils were given almost no formal instruction in the basic sciences of nuclear energy to combat the insidious informal information circulated by non-government organizations”. [19]

But his concern about public attitudes might surprise those who remember the uncompromising position he took when giving evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s investigation of underground nuclear storage in 1999. “The public should not be expected to have an opinion,” he told shocked Committee members. “There are many things for which quite legitimately the public looks to Government to make up the mind of 56 million people. Nuclear energy is a matter that is largely in Government hands and is a matter for Government decision.” [20]

And Energy Foresight is just the tip of the iceberg…

Eon’s teaching packs for schools

Eon is also engaged in “a major new programme” to produce and promote teaching packs for schools, tied into the national curriculum. “Whether they are starting out or finishing their schooling, energy will be a dominant theme in their lives,” the company says about the children it is targeting. “They are part of a generation that will have to make key decisions, individually and collectively, which will affect them and the rest of the world. The E.ON Energy Experience has the ambition of helping to create an energy literate generation giving them the information they need to make informed choices.” [21]

The free resources offered by the company include online activities plus a pack of information and activity cards, accompanied by teacher’s notes, for use in classrooms. The subjects covered include:

  • Renewable and non-renewable energy sources
  • Climate change
  • Using energy
  • A nuclear future?
  • Energy transformations
  • Distributing energy

‘Fact sheets’ about different sources of energy have Eon’s logo on every page. Indeed, the wide range of teaching packs produced by Eon means that pupils could be exposed to the company’s logos and material in not only in science lessons, but also in geography, citizenship and ICT classes. A helpful website for teachers outlines all the possible ways in which the material can be used to fit in with the curriculum.

Eon’s nuclear power ‘fact sheet’ emphasizes the benefits of nuclear power (‘Uranium is readily and cheaply available, nuclear fuel is easily stored, a small amount of nuclear fuel produces a lot of electricity, and nuclear power stations do not produce any carbon dioxide from nuclear fission,’ it says) while underplaying the disadvantages (‘Nuclear power stations +may+ be unpopular with people who are concerned about how safe they are’ [emphasis added] and ‘Nuclear energy produces radioactive waste which must be buried in sealed containers for a long time’ (forgetting to mention that the UK currently has no idea of where it can bury such waste)).

One set of resources encourages children to debate the motion: ‘Our class believes that nuclear is the right choice to meet the UK’s energy needs in the 21st century’. Teachers can also download an ‘activity card’ to help them plan a lesson on the nuclear power debate. While the teaching pack website provides links to Greenpeace and coverage of the Chernobyl disaster, it also points students towards the nuclear industry’s lobbying body, the World Nuclear Association.

The Nuclear Industry Association

The Nuclear Industry Association is also currently developing “a new suite of educational booklets… covering important topics like energy and the environment; radiation, health and safety; nuclear energy - past, present and future; and energy and society”. The material is “specifically geared to the needs of the national curriculum”. [22]

The industry body is also training “young people in the industry” to counter the critics of nuclear power. NIA says it has “begun a programme of stimulating workshops to bring these people together, and provide them the opportunity to explore the arguments used against the industry, discuss how they can be challenged, and give them some professional training in communications and presentational skills so that they can go out to engage and debate with the public.” [23]

BNFL/British Nuclear Group

In addition to sponsoring Energy Foresight, BNFL runs a well-established science education programme for both primary and secondary schools. On its specialist teaching website it boasts: “Over the past ten years, British Nuclear Group has developed a strong programme of nationwide educational support for the teaching of science and technology in primary, secondary and further education. British Nuclear Group has gained the reputation of being one of the foremost companies in the UK for providing sponsored teaching resources.”

It adds: “Our company is founded on a proud track record of applying in-depth experience to complex nuclear challenges. The end result will be a safe environment, both now and for future generations.”

The site offers a wide range of teaching resources, many of which are free, including DVDs, online games and quizzes. Materials include information on how nuclear power stations work and are decommissioned.

Here, too, as elsewhere, materials have been carefully designed to fit in with the requirements of the national curriculum.

But one booklet, called Energy and the Environment, is heavily biased in favour of nuclear power. While it devotes two pages to the environmental impacts of coal, oil, gas and biomass, and a further two to hydroelectric, wind, tidal, wave, solar and geothermal power, nuclear gets four pages, largely devoted to counteracting concerns about the risks associated with nuclear power plants and radioactive waste. The booklet claims that “nuclear power has the potential to provide electricity generation for a thousand years” and reassures pupils that “safety [is] the number one responsibility for the nuclear industry in the UK”. Although the booklet was published in 1994, it is still available today. Interestingly, it also quotes Professor Ian Fells, now a paid consultant to the nuclear industry. [24]

BNFL’s educational website also contains a list of nuclear sites that schools can visit.

BNG also runs a separate website for teachers and students about Sellafield.

Nexia Solutions

BNFL subsidiary Nexia Solutions has just started sponsoring a residential course for children.

The first course, run by the Smallpiece Trust, introduced pupils to nuclear engineering. [25]


Nirex, the government-controlled agency established to oversee the storage of radioactive waste, also has a webpage offering educational material aimed at both students and teachers, though it is considerably less sophisticated than others profiled here.

But its material, too, arguably underplays the risks from nuclear power. Its ‘What is radioactivity leaflet’, for example, says: “When people first began to work with radioactivity they did not realise that it could be harmful, and many became ill and died. Nowadays we know how to measure the dose received, and use shielding to protect ourselves and the environment from such dangers.”

Similarly, its leaflet ‘What should we do with the UK’s radioactive waste? aims to “describe the most commonly suggested options, and explain some of the advantages and disadvantages of each”. It details disadvantages of all the options – apart from Nirex’s favoured option, Phased Disposal.

Consumer watchdog’s withdraws support for schools sponsorship guidelines

Commercial activities in schools, including sponsorship of teaching materials, operate under a set of voluntary guidelines drawn up by the Department for Education and Skills, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and the consumer group Which? In 2004, Which? Published withdrew its support because they were “concerned that the guidelines were not sufficiently robust to ensure against irresponsible sponsorship in schools”. This followed the publication of a report on the promotion of unhealthy foods to children in schools. Which says they wanted the guidelines “strengthened to deal more specifically with sponsorship linked to foods high in fat, sugar and salt.” [26]


  1. ^  Report of the Nuclear Skills Group, Part Two – annexes (pdf file), Department for Trade and Industry website], 5 December 2002
  2. ^  David Barlex, Director Nuffield Design & Technology – biography, Schools Network website], March 2004, accessed February 2007
  3. ^  Energy Research Partnership – members, Energy Research Partnership website, undated, accessed March 2007
  4. ^  Dr David Fishlock, Nuclear-savvy gurus in UK schools, SONE website, 24 April 2006
  5. ^  Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report - Management of Nuclear Waste, Hansard, 10 March 1999
  6. ^  Eon Energy Experience – Introduction, Eon website, undated, accessed January 2007
  7. ^  NIA initiatives, NIA website, undated, accessed January 2007
  8. ^  Energy Foresight website, undated, accessed January 2007
  9. ^  Energy Foresight and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority join forces to deliver better science education to 14 - 16 year olds, Energy Foresight website, 21 November 2006
  10. ^  ‘Programme roll out’, Energy Foresight website, undated, accessed January 2007
  11. ^  Software Production Enterprises – Personnel, SPE website, undated, accessed January 2007
  12. ^  Software Production Enterprises – Projects, SPE website, undated, accessed January 2007
  13. ^  ‘Government support for Young Foresight’, Energy Foresight website, 1 January 2001
  14. ^  BNFL Annual Report 2003 (pdf file), BNFL website, page 29
  15. ^  ‘Bryant Homes Ltd appoints Brian George as non-executive chairman’ press release, Taylor Woodrow website, 6 August 2001. See also BNFL Annual Report 2005 (pdf file), [ BNFL website, page 27 – biog of Brian George: “Joined the Board on 12 March 2001…He left the Board on 31 March 2005”
  16. ^  British Nuclear Energy Society Consolidated Accounts 2003, available to download at [27]. Click on 31/12/2003. Page 7: “Catrina Hassall, BNFL” Hassell later changed her surname to Collings (see p1 of BNES Accounts 2003) but continued to work at BNFL/British Nuclear Group. See ‘CONSORT - Nuclear Dinosaur or UK Strategic Resource’, Institution of Mechanical Engineers - West Cumbria Area website, 19 October 2005
  17. ^  pp12-15, ‘Energy and the Environment’, BNFL, 1994 – unavailable online.
  18. ^  Latest news, The Smallpiece Trust website, accessed February 2007. See also Ian Boydon ‘Students' nuclear power’, [28], 24 January 2007.
  19. ^  Letter from Energy Foresight’s Peter Waller to the NDA’s Dr Ian Hudson, dated 6 January 2006, released to NuclearSpin under the Freedom of Information Act.
  20. ^  ‘Proposal to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’, Energy Foresight, December 2005 Also Appendices- released to NuclearSpin under the Freedom of Information Act.
  21. ^  [BBC Radio 5 Live interview with John Large – podcast], 9 December 2007, Large’s comments made from 12mins 30seconds
  22. ^  Letter from BNES/BNFL’s Dr Sue Ion to Nu-Tech Associates Ltd 11 August 2005 - released to NuclearSpin under the Freedom of Information Act.
  23. ^  ‘Managing the nuclear legacy – strategy for action’ (pdf file), DTI, July 2002
  24. ^  Email from Which to NuclearSpin, 21 February 2007