Nuclear option should be kept open

11 January 2008

Tony Curzon Price (London, openDemocracy): I entirely support Stuart Weir's view that a decision as momentous as restarting nuclear build should be arrived at by something like a Royal Commission. The question is too large, delicate and long term for ordinary representative institutions to deliver legitimacy.

On the substance, here are the reasons why I think the nuclear option should be kept open - where "option kept open" is not some euphemism for neither yes nor no; it means maintaining the institutions, projects, engineers, university courses that make nuclear a real option. It may even mean doing what the government is doing now, which is not certain to deliver a nuclear power station, but is likely to produce an interested group of experts and firms.

Nuclear has risks, and its long term costs are possibly unquantifiable. But so are those of fossil fuels - not only in climate change terms, but also in geopolitical consequences. Did Chirac's opposition to Bush's war have something to do with France's relative energy independence? Quite likely. And how easily could a fossil-fuel induced Middle East conflagration have appalling consequences? Quite easily.

So the argument is not about the risks and costs of nuclear versus fossil. The issue is nuclear versus other renewables. My own perfect energy future is one of austere voluntary simplicity, public transport, low transport etc. That is a world that probably can be mostly fuelled by non-nuclear renewables. But what if it is not possible to persuade our fellow nation and world-dwellers to see this as a good future? Then the choice is between fossil and nuclear (if there is a choice at all ... the earth's climate may have gone irretrievably Venus-like by then if we are living this scenario).

So the nuclear option should be maintained, not because it is attractive, but because it may be the last chance if we fail to deliver an environmentalism (or ecologism?) that profoundly changes consumerist lifestyles. But to repeat - Stuart Weir is right to insist this argument should have been put by someone to an independent, semi-expert, semi-lay commission.

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