The house I grew up in, and where my parents live still, is on the Aldermaston Road, a mile or so north of Basingstoke Hospital, where I was born, and five miles south of the Atomic Weapons Establishment. From its founding in 1950 until 1987 (when I was ten), AWE was known as the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE). The joke that they’d finished the research and could now get on with building the weapons was almost, but not quite, too obvious to be made. The renaming actually had to do with the privatisation of most of the Royal Ordnance Factories, not including the two that made nuclear weapons, ROF Cardiff (closed in 1997) and ROF Burghfield (just down the road from Aldermaston), which were combined with AWRE to form AWE. To say that I grew up in the shadow of AWRE seems melodramatic. But it was a pervasive presence. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about it; most of the patients at my father’s NHS dental practice seemed to work there, as electricians or MOD police officers if not as nuclear research scientists – and it was an obvious target if ‘the Russians’ ever decided to go ahead and bomb ‘us’.
The full text of this diary is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
 The 1986 movie of When the Wind Blows was rereleased by the BFI in January.
 Cambridge, 370 pp., £90, November 2016, 978 1 107 13628 1.
 Profile, 502 pp., £25, September 2017, 978 1 78125 719 7.
Vol. 40 No. 8 · 26 April 2018
Thomas Jones digs up Carol Barton’s research article from 2001, in which she relayed her findings that, between 1972 and 1996, the risk of child leukaemia within ten kilometres of Aldermaston and Burghfield was double the rate for the UK as a whole (LRB, 5 April). Barton was then a consultant haematologist at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. ‘Until the cause of cancer is fully understood, and what the part of radiation in the process could be,’ she wrote, ‘no firm measures can be taken to redress the balance.’
Research has moved on since then. More than sixty epidemiological studies worldwide have examined the incidence of cancer in children near nuclear power plants (NPPs): most indicate increases in leukaemia. These include the landmark 2008 KiKK study commissioned by the German government, which found relative risks of 1.6 in total cancers and 2.2 in leukaemias among infants living within five kilometres of all German NPPs.
A number of hypotheses have been proposed to explain these findings. One is that the increased cancers arise from the exposure of pregnant women near NPPs to radiation. However, any theory has to account for the greater than a thousand-fold discrepancy between official estimates of radiation doses from nuclear emissions and the observed increases in cancer risk. It may be that radiation exposures from spikes in NPP radionuclide emissions are significantly larger than the averages recorded in official estimates. In addition, the risks to embryos and foetuses from radiation exposure are much greater than to adults, and the blood-forming tissues in embryos and foetuses are even more radiosensitive.
Thomas Jones repeats the story that Robert Oppenheimer quoted the Bhagavad Gita after witnessing the first successful nuclear weapons test in New Mexico: ‘I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.’ I once had the chance to ask his brother, Frank, who was standing next to him at the time, what Oppie’s actual words were. Frank’s recollection was that he said: ‘I guess it worked.’
Vol. 40 No. 9 · 10 May 2018
The note accompanying Thomas Jones’s reflections on generational attitudes to Armageddon says that he ‘edits the LRB blog from a secure bunker, in an undisclosed location’ (LRB, 5 April). I believe previous leaks have disclosed that his bunker is in Orvieto, and he will therefore almost certainly know about – and if not, would certainly relish a trip to – the former nuclear bunkers at Monte Soratte, if not a stone’s throw then certainly a short missile arc away. The bunker was built on Mussolini’s orders after 1937, ultimately comprising some four kilometres of tunnels, and then occupied by Kesselring’s German troops in 1943 and 1944 (it is one of various sites where people go to prospect for ‘hidden Nazi gold’). Between 1967 and 1972 it was converted into the Italian government’s nuclear shelter, complete with decontamination chambers and beds for the few of Rome’s political and military elites who – mostly ordered not to bring their children – would have been ushered inside as the sirens sounded. Inside they would have found vast screens on which Nato operatives were to monitor the immolation of Western Europe. It’s straight out of what the locals call Il dottor Stranamore. The bunker was abandoned in 1989, but reopened in 2014 largely on the initiative of volunteers from the nearby village of Sant’Oreste, who now run guided tours. Rumours that Mussolini had the upper slopes of Monte Soratte sculpted to resemble the profile of a recumbent Duce are always denied, but as you look at it, for example from the Rome-Florence train line, it bears an eerie resemblance.