‘You need to be quite aggressive to have a crack at naval officers and nuclear engineers, ‘ (John Large quote ‘New Civil Engineer’ Jan 2002)
I was saddened to read earlier this month of the death of Consultant Engineer John Large a fervent campaigner for nuclear safety who often ‘swam against the tide’ of contemporary nuclear safety thinking. Ironically at the time of his death Large was working on a presentation about the safety of the Hunterston nuclear plant (which is currently the focus of concerns) with radioactivity consultant Dr John Fairlie.
I first became aware of the work of Large’s decades ago when the Celtic League were campaigning about the safety of nuclear transports by sea from Sellafield (via Barrow Port) to Japan and we found Large (via his Company Large and Associates) had produced a very comprehensive and critical safety report in 1990. In fact I used the report of the basis for concerns when as Secretary General of the Celtic League I visited the BNFL/PNTL shipping operation as a guest of BNFL in 1999.
In terms of the nuclear industry scientific community Large was something of an outsider but this did not stop him achieving considerable kudos for his work as this obituary in the UK Guardian newspaper outlines. His knowledge was valued not just by a diverse client list but by the International Atomic Energy Agency
Ironically almost two decades ago I was at the location of one of Large’s lesser publicised guidance when attending a conference in Gibraltar (for the TGWU) we learned a British nuclear submarine (HMS Tireless) was in the Port with reactor difficulties. Large advised on its repair as tensions between the UK and Spain over its presence grew. The following year Large headed the nuclear risk assessment team involved in raising of the sunken and severely damaged Russian nuclear submarine Kursk in 2001 – the world’s first successful recovery of a nuclear powered submarine.
With the debate over the continued operation of plants like Hunterston Power Station and other stations with graphite core cracking set to continue it seems the legacy of John Large’s commitment to nuclear safety will continue after his death. Quite a ‘legacy’ for ‘a nuclear safety outsider’ whose death is a great loss to environmental bodies mindful the nuclear threat.
Image: (1)John Large (4 May 1943; died 3 November 2018) outside the Flamanville nuclear power plant, northern France, in 2006, with his technical assessment of the vulnerability of European Pressurised Reactors to aircraft impact (2) Large being interviewed after a collision between a UK and French nuclear submarine off Ireland in 2009
Assistant General Secretary