Nuclear power was thrust into local headlines last week when a report tipped that nuclear power could be coming to South Oxfordshire, if the Government decides to build an new generation of nuclear plants.

Experts suggested industrial sites at Didcot and nearby Harwell as possible locations for a new plant - and local residents reacted with horror at the thought of radioactivity creeping close to their doors. Oxfordshire is the birthplace of nuclear research in Britain, so I felt compelled to find out more about this mysterious source of energy.

I headed off to Harwell, the site of a former nuclear research centre, which is being cleaned up after closing in the mid 1990s. The centre is owned by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), a public body responsible for decommissioning the radioactive site by 2025.

By this time, it should be a safe place to build homes and workplaces on the green fields that are left behind.

In fact, it will have a lower radiation count than most places in the country, said my UKAEA guide Angela Vincent as I was shown around Area 462, where waste is stored in canisters, ready for burial underground.

My mind conjured up green-glowing crystals that looked like Kryptonite, so I was highly disappointed to find that the first piece of nuclear waste I saw looked like a dirty tissue.

This is quite normal, says Angela. Most waste is just ordinary items that are contaminated during the daily workings of a nuclear operation.

A three-foot-thick glass barrier separates me from this killer waste, which could make me seriously ill if I handled it directly.

To move it, I operated a big metal robotic arm. When I clenched on my side of the glass, the arm on the other side scooped up the deadly material. It felt like I was playing a puzzle game on The Crystal Maze or fishing for soft toys at a fairground.

About 30 people operate the machinery, including Sharon Giddings from Wantage.

She said: "I really enjoy the job, being the only female sorter. I don't worry too much about working with radioactive material."

The control room looked like a scene from an episode of Star Trek. There was even an enormous red button labelled EMERGENCY STOP, which I had to try very hard not to press.

This is the hub of the site. Medium-level waste is put in lead-lined drums, packed in with concrete and taken for temporary burial on-site.

It all seems a very safe, clean place, full of happy nuclear-friendly people - but I got slightly scared when I was told I must be scanned for radiation before I leave.

I stood in a man-sized booth, slid my arms down dark tubes and pressed the front of my body against a wall. I was given the all-clear, but it was a bit disconcerting.

For the last part of my tour, I was driven to the site of the old nuclear reactors. Pluto, Dido and Bepo sound like Disney characters, but in fact they are the domed buildings where the most important nuclear research in Britain was done for half a century.

The spin-off science behind heart pacemakers, early computers - and the bubbles in Maltesers - were developed on this site. I was impressed. Head of site John Wilkins explained that as Harwell is decommissioned, it has started a new life as a science park of world-renowned status. He said: "When the site is cleaned up by 2025, we'll have to demonstrate that there's no danger at all left from radiation.

"Now we have the new Diamond Light Source facility on site (a giant microscope) and many exciting companies turning this into a site of innovation."

My whirlwind nuclear experience was over. I hadn't sprouted two heads or started "feeling a bit funny".

But as I left the fortified compound, exchanging a cheery word with the armed police at the gate, my thoughts turned to the sinister aspects of radioactive material and the security needed to contain it.

Stored away, buried, far from human touch, we hope that nuclear dangers will not affect our lives - making sure it stays in safely-gloved robotic claws, rather than slipping into the wrong hands.