Opinion: Nuclear? Not now!

Imagine, for a moment, that the terrifying secrets of nuclear fission did not wait until the wartime dash for knowledge under Robert Oppenheimer. Let’s imagine, instead, that the basis for nuclear energy was developed closer to Einstein’s breakthrough, maybe just before the Great Depression.

Ask yourself, what would the Chamberlain government have done with nuclear energy in the weeks after the outbreak of war, expecting at any time the drone of Nazi bombers? It doesn’t take much imagination. They would have abandoned such tempting and potentially devastating targets, just as they abandoned BBC television because its transmissions could guide bombers.

So how are we to understand the Brown government’s determination to press ahead with a vastly expensive investment in nuclear energy, with all the concomitant transport of plutonium and nuclear waste, at a time when we are supposed to be facing an unprecedented external threat? Are we really facing such a terrorist threat after all? Or is modern government hopelessly in thrall to departmental divisions, to the extent that one department deals with risks and another deals with something else entirely?

Ask yourself, or better still ask Gordon Brown: how can you possibly expect us to believe both these propositions?

  1. The terrorism threat to the UK is at unprecedented levels.
  2. We need have no fears about expanding our exploitation and transport of plutonium to fuel a new nuclear energy programme.

Either one of the statements must be false, or else they have a peculiarly blinkered understanding of public risk. Or maybe they believe terrorists would be too gentlemanly to steal plutonium and target reactors?

More decentralised energy is not just common sense, it is also a good deal less of a terrorist threat.

Or can we really imagine Chamberlain and Churchill discounting the threat to nuclear power stations from Nazi bombers or rockets, on the grounds that it was the responsibility of a different set of ministers? That’s not my department, said Werner von Braun.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • dreamingspire 11th Sep '07 - 10:24am

    Sadly, this discussion continues to ignore the progress being made in other countries that have more effective public sectors. It needs to develop further the proposals already made by Chris Huhne et al: Climate Change Starts at Home (April 07) about more energy efficient housing is just one of those papers – except I cannot find that paper now on the LD web site. Start at http://www.libdems.org.uk/environment/index.html

    And we really need to have some nuclear capacity, but we are stuck in the gap between our near term requirement and the 4th generation much cleaner technology currently being developed by several countries (but not by us). See the Argonne Lab http://www.ne.al.gov and the Idaho National Lab http://nuclear.inl.gov/gen4/

  • Geoffrey Payne 11th Sep '07 - 1:48pm

    When I joined the party in 1983 the green economist Fritz Schumaker had a big influence on me, and I felt at home in the Liberal Party. He did not know about global warming of course, and since then James Lovelock has been saying the opposite.
    In truth the arguments are so complicated, with so many variables I do not know what to think. It is hard to have a serious debate about it on this forum. Out of interest I am curious to know what would happen if a plane was to fly into a nuclear power station?
    One concern that I do have is that if the pro-nuclear wing of the party were to get it’s way, it would simply be another step towards the party becoming a party of boring subburban accountants who read the Times.
    In the overall scheme of things, I shouldn’t let that sway me I know.

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