Nuclear: manyana?

12 May 2005
The UK government's chief scientific advisor, who yesterday contributed this comment to the openDemocracy debate, is said to be a keen advocate of nuclear power.

But in today's Guardian, the headline writer for Paul Brown's article interprets Prof King's comments as ruling out a rapid return to nuclear power in Britain.

"The British government viewpoint is that we must focus on renewables and energy efficiency, both clear winners in increasing the security of supply", David King is quoted as saying in a story that focuses on a conference on global energy policy today in Oxford.

The future role of nuclear power - or not - remains a controversial topic in Britain as elsewhere. (See previous posts in this blog here and here, and this recent story about the Thorp reprocessing plant).

The argument rages within industry, government and policy circles as well as outside them. openDemocracy's debate has featured comments by a senior insider who argues that there are four major reasons nuclear power is a bad idea: cost, military security, waste and the risk of accidents (the person cannot be named because it could put his or her livelihood at risk).

Advances in clean coal technology, this person concludes, will be crucial given the situation in China and India. As Victor Mallet notes in the Financial Times (10 May), citing data from Air Pollution in Asia by CLSA investment bank, China already burns 1.5bn tonnes of coal a year, and its power consumption is increasing rapidly, not least for the more than 70,000 factories in Guangdong province - already a source of severe air pollution.

openDemocracy welcomes more comment the political challenges of nuclear and its alternatives, especially from people with an inside track and real knowledge of the issues.

Caspar Henderson

12 May addendum: the headline in yesterday's Guardian does appear to be misguided. See this story in today's Independent by Michael McCarthy:

In a long discussion of the nuclear question, [David King] said he well understood the fears of many of the public about nuclear waste, nuclear accidents and the possibilities of terrorists acquiring nuclear material. He said: "I've never been a great nuclear protagonist, because of concerns of waste and leakage, the cost of disposal, the decommissioning issue and the whole question of public acceptability."

But [David King] said the question of climate change and its impacts on human society - "the most serious problem we're faced with globally this century" - was so important that the nuclear option had to be re-examined, and that public perception of nuclear's dangers did not necessarily accord with reality.


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