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Radio Plays - Energy Industry

There have been few plays about the energy industry. One wonders why - energy is as important to a community as food or housing, and plays about these are common.

Listen to the following, and be amazed - the duel between Mrs. Thatcher and Arthur Scargill; the Windscale accident, the Piper Alpha explosion of 1988 and the Cullen Inquiry. Truly remarkable stories.

If you are interested in the energy industry, you might have a look at the Habitat21 website, which talks about our energy needs and resources.

THE PLAYS:
15.10.12 Top Kill, by Mike Walker
24.05.11 The Kingsnorth Six, by Julia Hollander
22.06.09 Power Play, by Margaret Heffernan
06.07.08 Piper Alpha (r3, 100m)
08.10.07 Windscale, by Paul Dodgson
06.07.07 A Second to Midnight, by Andrew Walker & Christopher Reason
03.04.04 The Duel by Michael Samuels
26.04.01 Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich


NOTES


TOP KILL....2012
Another play from Mike Walker, TOP KILL (R4, 1415, 15 Oct 12) highlighted what can go wrong on an oil rig when science and economics collide. On April 20th 2010, on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, there was an incident which killed 11 oil workers and caused the release of enormous quantities of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Now, with 3000 such rigs in the Gulf, this play depicts events on a comparable platform, and demonstrates what might happen when scientific judgements are over-ruled by other factors. The man in charge of the rig, Masterson, was played by Colin Stinton, with Lorelie King, Nathan Osgood, Laurel Lefko and Eric Loren. The production was by Eoin O'Callaghan, in Belfast. (.....ND, VRPCC review, Dec 12)


THE KINGSNORTH SIX....2011
24 May 11, R4. In 2007, environmental activists broke into Kingsnorth Power Station to protest about government proposals to build more coal-fired power stations. They had the belief that man-made carbon dioxide emanating from such stations was altering the planet's climate. They scaled the chimney - no mean achievement - and subsequently were taken to court for criminal damage. The question which the play did not ask is this: - should an unelected group, no matter how well-intentioned, impose its views on the silent majority by disrupting energy supplies? Good to see another play about energy - a very important topic - on the schedules.

Cast: Daniel Rabin, Federay Holmes, David Seddon, Brian Bowles, Mark Carey, Sean Baker, Rob Swinton. Producer Fiona Kelcher. 45m.


POWER PLAY....2009
22-23 Jun 09, afternoon play. The fascinating story of the collapse of ENRON, the biggest power company in the world. Done as a drama-documentary. Producer Sarah Davies. Written by Margaret Heffernan.

    Seven years ago one of America's apparently most successful companies collapsed spectacularly amongst accusations of insider trading and corporate greed. The play dramatises the fall of Enron, illustarting some of the ruthless ethics and language of the trading floor and using compelling archive material from the Senate Committee Hearings into the financial scandal.

    Senator Byron Dorgan, 18 Dec 2001: Hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. .............'The subject of the hearing today is the meltdown and bankrupcy of the Enron Corporation in just several months. This is not your average business failure. This is a tragedy for many including workers and investors who it appears to me have been cheated out of billions of dollars. It's about an energy company which morphed itself into a trading company involved in hedge funds and derivatives. It took on substantial risk, created secret off-the-books partnerships, and in effect, cooked the books under the nose of their accountants and investors. More than sixty billion dollars in value has been lost in months, some of those at the top of the pyramid got rich, those at the bottom lost everything. It appears to me to be a combination of incompetence, greed, speculation with investors' money, and perhaps some criminal behaviour'.

Cast: Andrea LeBlanc, Jin Suh, Hilario Saavedra, John Fleck, Mary Lou Rosato.


PIPER ALPHA....2008
By Stephen Phelps, 6 Jul 08, r3, 2155 hrs.
A drama-doc of the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster, which happened 20 years before, to the day. In fact the anniversary was even more exact - it took place 20 years before, to the minute, and the series of explosions which destroyed the oil rig took place over an hour and a half. The events of that evening were played out, in the play, at the same speed as they occurred in real life.

There were about 200 men on board when the disaster took place. About sixty survived, and they all gave their evidence to the Cullen Inquiry. There were some surprising conclusions: most of them only survived by using their commonsense and ignoring the inadequate safety training which they'd had. Rescue vessels were cheaply fitted and inadequately equipped. A neighbouring rig was unwittingly pumping in oil and gas to Piper Alpha, fuelling the inferno. Communications (and oil and gas from neighbouring rigs) were mainly routed through Piper Alpha, so once their communications went down, no-one knew what was happening.

The cast: Ewan Bailey, Nigel Betts, Kenny Blyth, Mark Bonnar, Liam Brennan, Stephen Critchlow, Ben Crowe, Nyasha Hatendi, Chris Pavlo, Roshan R Rohatgi, John Rowe, Dan Starkey, John Kay Steel and Joan Walker. Producer Toby Swift.


WINDSCALE....2007
By Paul Dodgson (R4, 1415, 8-9 Oct 07); broadcast on two successive days. It told the true story of what happened at Windscale in 1957, on its 50th anniversary. This was a time when America and Britain led the world in nuclear technology. Britain was developing its own atomic bomb, using plutonium produced at Windscale in its two atomic piles. But during October 1957, there was an accident during routine maintenance. It was usual, at regular intervals, to allow the graphite core to heat up slowly, to release the energy which builds up when it's irradiated. The temperature measuring instruments appeared to be inaccurate (footnote for scientific readers below #), and little by little, the core became dangerously overheated.

The fuel melted, fuel cans burst, the uranium caught fire, and the scientists had no experience of how to deal with it. At one stage they were poking scaffold tubes, in relays, into the radioactive nuclear core to free the red-hot fuel elements so they could shut the pile down. They struggled for several days, and did everything they could think of – for example, pumping carbon dioxide into the core -but nothing seemed to work; it was beyond them. As a last resort they tried flooding the pile with water, fearing acetylene or hydrogen release, but not knowing what else to do. Luckily it worked, and the fire died down.

Meanwhile a cloud of radioactive dust containing iodine, plutonium, caesium and polonium isotopes had been released and was drifting south-east towards northern cities. The press reports of the day were muted, to prevent public panic, but it was clear to most people that a serious incident had occurred, and that the eventual consequences were likely to remain unknown.

Paul Dodgson's excellent play looks at that dramatic week through the eyes of Camilla who was a child at the time of the accident and whose father worked at the plant. Thirty years later we meet her again as she revisits those events. Camilla was played by Nicola Stephenson, young Camilla by Jessica Pearson, and the parents were Ben Crowe and Susan Cookson. Music was by Paul Dodgson and the director was Sara Davies.

The Windscale power station, on the same site, was shut down in 1981, and is now the UK's demonstration project for complete decommissioning of a power-generating reactor; a pilot for what will probably be the biggest waste of public money for a generation, though it must be said there are plenty of other contenders for the title. Meanwhile in the UK our nuclear expertise has all but disappeared and University Physics departments are being allowed to close.


A SECOND TO MIDNIGHT....2007
Excellent two-part Friday Play (120m) broadcast 13 Jul and 20 Jul 07 about the oil industry in Nigeria and some of the conflicts of interest between the indigenous people and those, like us, who use the oil. Cast: Ian Puleston-Davies, Charlotte Emmerson,, Cyril Nyi, Brigit Forsyth, Richard Pepple, Sue Jenkins, David Fleeshman, James Nickerson, Abi Eniola. Written by Andrew Walker; produced by Gary Brown.
    A listener on the BBC messageboard commented: "I was irritated to hear a character in the Friday Play describe "Peak Oil" as being the point when we have used up half of the planet's reserves.But Peak Oil is when we get to the point where we can not produce oil any faster - in other words the peak of production. One reason this is important is that it may happen well after we have used up 50% of reserves.

    Another reason is that it defines the rate of oil use for the whole world. With demand increasing but the rate of production frozen it is only a matter of time until demand outstrips supply - at that point the price of oil will rocket and all the oil based economies will be in serious trouble. Ironically, the oil companies themselves will be able to effectively hold the world to ransom - it won't be their employees losing their jobs, althought this too is what is suggested in this drama. I hope that the second episode makes some of these things clear - otherwise this is going to have to go down as a poorly researched piece of drama."


    Another listener replied: I don't think it was that much mis-represented - if you look at a graph of peak oil - the area under the curve shows half remaining - but don't you agree it is more important to get the message across?

    ND comment: This is drama, not science, and the listener needs to have a clear picture of what's going on. A play isn't the place to split hairs over definitions. Plays often need simplification or modifications to the truth, to make them work as drama.

    Look at Shakespeare's Richard III. No-one regards it as historically accurate, but this doesn't diminish it as a work of art.

      A digest of more comments from the messageboard....

      LJ: ...It was written by Andrew Walker (the economics correspondent with the World Service?) and Christopher Reason (q.v.).

      R4 trailed the play quite heavily as concentrating specifically on the issue of the Peak Oil thesis – and in my opinion it didn’t. The Friday Play is usually the one that’s supposed to tax the intellect which is possibly why some listeners are critical.

      I don’t know if other contributors noticed, but I thought it had a definite ‘Saturday Night Theatre’ feel about it – ‘Liz’ and ‘Rob’ reminded me of Mike and Claire Nash out of Waggoners’ Walk. I was intrigued as to how a grown man can hide in the hatch area of a Peugeot 205. In fact I tried it myself and the parcel shelf was balanced on my head, so the rebels would certainly have caught me. I liked the ending to part (1): ‘Hello Dad’, so tuned into Part (ii).

      Perhaps Mary Goldring would have been the ideal person to have written a play about Peak Oil. It would have been full of interesting technical and economic info., relating to the decline of oil production – and would also have possessed a digestible romance/sexual content. Miss Goldring would certainly have described Dr. Turner’s deep blue eyes in great detail!

      MHC......This was brilliant, gripping, wonderful radio drama, I was rivetted by the first episode and had the radio on in every room in the house as I ploughed my way through the housework determined not to miss one second - and was not disappointed.

      I have some knowledge of the oil industry but am not an expert and listen to radio dramas for entertainment, to take me away from reality. The factual programmes give me information and often leave me depressed but this was fantastic fictional entertainment right up to the last second. More please of the same, please.



THE DUEL, by Michael Samuels....2004
R4, 1430-1600, 3 Apr 04. This play is based on the conflict between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the miners' leader, Arthur Scargill, 1983-1985. Miners went on strike in protest at pit closures, stayed out without a ballot, and supported Scargill right until the end. Ultimately he was defeated by the better tactics of his opponent. This was a wonderful piece of drama; David Threlfall played Scargill and Patricia Hodge was Margaret Thatcher; Jeremy Howe and Isobel Eaton directed.

The miners' strike bitterly divided the people. Hundreds of coal mines, a hundred thousand miners out on strike, a government intent on discord and the breaking of union power, thousands of police battling their fellow citizens on government instructions. It was also a highly personal clash between Scargill and Thatcher; the latter with strong memories of the downfall of the Heath government in 1974. That they treated the dispute as a fight to the death is shown in the way both resorted to imagery from the Second World War. Scargill said that the policies he opposed were the first steps on a road which would lead to the concentration camps (I couldn't quite follow his logic, but that was never his strong point); Mrs. Thatcher called the stance of the Labour Party "appeasement". We do not hear the story's real end - how the dispute ultimately destroyed both its architects - but the play is an outstanding piece of docu-drama. Listen to it. ......(paraphrased from a longer article by Danny Kelly in Radio Times, 3-9 Apr. 04)


VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL....2001
26 Apr 01, to mark the 15th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident. From Svetlana Alexievich's book, adapted by Lucy Baldwyn. A powerful love story, based on a true account, of how a woman's fireman husband was taken in secret to Moscow after being injured fighting the fires which spread from the reactor. Their story is interwoven with contemporary interviews with Ukrainian witnesses. With Lorraine Ashbourne.

# footnote - there is an oversimplification here. The problem was that the energy which builds up during irradiation - the "Wigner Energy" (see Google) - only does so if the core is below a certain temperature. The scientists thought, therefore - 'heat it up'. But the Wigner energy doesn't come out uniformly; it does so in bursts. The temperature measuring equipment was probably OK, but at the time they couldn't believe the readings they were seeing. Overheating was the result.

Later reactors were designed to operate above the Wigner temperature and avoided this problem.

compiled by Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

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