UK election goes nuclear

27 April 2005
With Britain's general election campaign in its final stretch, some hot button issues of real consequence may be coming to the fore. These include the legal basis on which the UK went to war in Iraq, and the future - or not - of nuclear power.

Having danced around nukes for some time - as noted in the introduction to this debate - the political parties are now trying to give the appearance of putting cards on the table. Tony Blair has said his government will look seriously at nuclear power in the summer. The Conservatives have said there will be a place for it if the waste and economic challenges can be solved (which is a bit like saying there's a place for crack cocaine if the health and social impacts can be solved).

Could the question of whether or not there's a role for nuclear become a central dilemma in a serious response to climate change? Some advocates - notably in the UK James Lovelock - have been saying for many years that the risks of nuclear power are trivial compared to those of climate change. (Lovelock is sanguine on the risks. I'll always remember him telling me how he'd be happy to have some nuclear material to heat the small swimming pool on his beautiful small farm in Cornwall).

Others say the cost of nuclear power would vastly outweigh any benefits. Here's Tom Burke in The Guardian on 2 March:

The brutal truth is that no one has yet managed to work out a way of getting nuclear reactors to burn uranium as effectively as they burn money - though extraordinary creativity has gone into concealing this from public view...Tony Blair can have all the nuclear power he can persuade chancellor Gordon Brown to pay for.

Nuclear power is just an issue in the UK. As Amity Shlaes notes in the Financial Times (US must exorcise its nuclear demons subscription only) on the eve of the 21st anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, In coming weeks we will hear a lot about a "nuclear option" in the [US] Senate.

Caspar Henderson

(added 27 April: read the senior insider "Buffy" on nukes in the forum)

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