Margaret Thatcher opens Torness

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The last of the nation’s second generation nuclear power plants to be commissioned, Torness at Dunbar in East Lothian, Scotland was not a very popular venture. Although the construction was approved before the conservatives and Thatcher came to power, the completion of Torness (which along with Hunterston would provide half of Scotland’s electricity eventually) not only finalized the political and social transformations Thatcher brought to the United Kingdom but also marked the end of the social turmoils that plagued England in the 70s and the 80s

In 1978, when Torness construction was greenlit, 4,000 people marched from Dunbar to occupy the site. Coincidentally on the day, Thatcher became PM, there were protests at Torness too. People numbering in thousands protested Torness (whose disapproval ratings hovered around 50 percent) throughout the 80s, but on 13th May 1989, when Thatcher opened that plant, only 150 demonstrators were on hand to protest. Britain had moved on from a country of complainers and protesters. Thatcher dedicated, “Nuclear is very good – not only as an alternative source of power, it is also very environmentally conscious and it is very safety conscious.” Deeply distrusting coal miners and Arab oil sheiks, Mrs Thatcher was an ardent advocate for nuclear power. She wanted to build 10 plants, one a year but by the time she published her nuclear White Paper in 1981, this plan had been scaled back to five, at an indefinite rate. In the end only one was finished 15 years later at Sizewell.

The photographer Rod Fleming took this picture of Thatcher for Scotland On Sunday. Because of the controversial nature of the plant, the Prime Minister’s minders had pushed the journalists and photographers as far away as possible. The PM was touring the site and she finally looked up at the assembled photographers who had been shoved onto a tiny platform above the containment unit. “Would you like a picture?” said she, and when the photographers agreed, she stretched her arms and asked, “Will that do?”.

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