Can They Be Serious?


With history in mind, it is hard to assess nuclear power on its merits.  Remembering the deception that was practised on the public and MPs alike when ‘atoms for peace’ were first proposed, when the queen was co-opted into opening the first nuclear power station that was to produce electricity ‘too cheap to meter’, in the words of Walter Marshall, guiding scientist of the ill-fated project; remembering that in reality nuclear power stations were needed to produce the plutonium for nuclear weapons, that the plutonium was indeed sent to the United States secretly to be included in warheads, without even the knowledge of the Minister for Energy, Tony Benn, who was furious later when he learned of it; remembering that in the beginning the power was a mere spin-off from plutonium production in the initial design; remembering the City’s cool assessment of nuclear power, with its unsolved waste disposal problems and unknown decommissioning costs, as being too tricky for private sector investment, even with promised subsidies; remembering all this, the modern push to resurrect this discredited technology seems frankly incredible.


Do the authorities imagine that Chernobyl can be erased from memory, that all the other accidents, including the most recent radio-active spillage at Sellafield which has currently stopped work at the plant and will cost millions to clean up, can now be passed over, that the unsolved problem of nuclear waste can be deferred in the hope that our children will be brighter than we are and will come up with a solution?  In the words of John MacEnroe, surely they cannot be serious?


The answer is that they are.  Deadly serious.  In an article in New Statesman (23/5/05) Johnathan Leake and Dan Box describe the semi-covert campaign presently underway.  They note a keynote speech delivered by Alexander, whose company owns two thirds of Britain’s nuclear power stations, on 15th March with the title UK Nuclear Energy: fuel of the future? to a selected audience of the great and the Good at the Army and Navy club.  Within 20 years the existing nuclear stations will have to be closed down, cleaned up and must be replaced with some form of power generation that does not produce CO2.  Guess what kind?  (The energy, and therefore the CO2 emissions, required to build nuclear power stations is great, a significant proportion of the energy they produce during their lifetime, but is never taken into account in simplistic presentations.)


‘From being a piece of history, the nuclear industry – a fading dinosaur that has wasted billions and left a toxic legacy that will cost billions more – is pushing itself back into the headlines, rebranded as the only source of cheap, secure and clean energy demanded by modern Britain.’ 


The article goes on to describe expensive recruitment of skilled lobbyists presently being undertaken by British Energy.  The effectiveness of behind-the-scenes activity in our rather flawed democracy should not be underestimated.


This time the promotion of nuclear energy has to be more realistic on price.  Far from claiming that nuclear energy can produce electricity too cheap to meter, the current advice being given to government from the Royal Academy of Engineering is that it (government) should create a market for nuclear by ensuring ‘long-term stability of electricity prices’, a coded warning that the nuclear industry will once more require subsidy from taxpayers in the form of a blank cheque.


The readers of KPN are well aware of the problems posed and the deceptions imposed by the nuclear power industry: perhaps we should simply end with a quote from a letter to the Guardian from Edward Milford on about 30th May.


‘Nuclear power is the ultimate non-sustainable technology.  It consigns future generations to deal with wastes that we have no way of dealing with ourselves.  What gives a generation that lives in a particular part of the world for a couple of decades either side of the millennium the right to inflict this on future generations, potentially for thousands of years, just to satisfy our bloated energy demands?’