Remembering Walter Marshall

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Walter Marshall was sometime Chair of the CEGB – the Central Electricity Generating Board – which was an organisation which did simply what its name implied.  Not only that, it was clearly seen being responsible for keeping the UK's lights on: a role that no organisation seems to have these days.

Some thought that Marshall sounded rather Hungarian but he had been born in Rumney, Cardiff to British parents.  He was a passionate advocate for, and successful developer of, nuclear power stations.  His most memorable publicity stunt was in 1984 when he arranged for a train travelling at 100mph to crash into the sort of flask used to carry spent nuclear fuel from power station to Sellafield to show that such vessels were robust.  There's a spectacular (if a bit fuzzy) video.  It was inevitably controversial.

The next paragraph comes from the Dictionary of Welsh Biography:

"Marshall was appointed a Head of Division at AERE in 1960, and Director in 1964. He became an enthusiastic supporter of nuclear energy as a source of electricity, and often appeared on the media to support that case. For a period he became Chief Scientist at the UK Government Department for Energy, but was dismissed from the post in 1977 following a disagreement with the Labour Minister for Energy Tony Benn. However, he was supported by the incoming Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher, and was appointed Chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in 1981, and Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1982."

The spectacular row between Marshall and Benn in 1977 was when, faced with complaints to the government from poor people that the cost of electricity was unaffordable, Marshall helpfully suggested that they be given money to help them with the bills.  Surprisingly, perhaps, Benn, that self-appointed tribune of the plebeians, was unimpressed enough to sack him.

Of course, 50 years on, this is what is happening c/o the deal between the government, the power companies and the regulator, Ofgem.  Only this time, rich and poor alike are being given money – not what Walter had in mind at all.

And what would he have thought of paying for Net-Zero policies?  We can't know, of course, but might he just have thought that poor people deserve a helping hand?  He surely might.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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