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It’s taken a while, but today the UK government has given formal backing to the construction of a new generation of nuclear power stations. To paraphrase Sir Humphrey Appleby, that most civil of civil servants: as far as we can see, looking at it by and large, taking one thing with another, then in the final analysis it is probably true to say, that at the end of the day, in general terms, you would probably find that, not to put too fine a point on it, this is probably the right decision… As far as one can see, at this stage. In the absence of any indication (apart from wishful thinking) that the UK will be able to (a) reduce its power consumption or (b) bridge the energy gap with renewables, it seems completely sensible to retain the nuclear option as part of a balanced energy portfolio, especially if you buy into the crusade to reduce carbon emissions.

Nothing’s set in stone, naturally. The government hopes the first plant could be open by 2020, but I wouldn’t put money on it. With a shortage of skilled nuclear engineering workers, long lead times on crucial components, and no guarantee that any private company will jump in to build anything while the government insists on zero subsidies, it may be a while before we all start to lose our hair and glow in the dark. Meanwhile, all the usual suspects are queuing up to condemn the announcement. Of course, it’s the Opposition’s job to oppose the government, and it’s the environmental NGO’s job to oppose anything to do with the word ‘nuclear’. Except families (so far).

It’s good to know there are still some things we can rely on.


Written by Pete Smith

January 10, 2008 at 4:07 pm

10 Responses

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  1. Well you know my views on this Pete but I have to ask, don’t you think that if we embrace nuclear, there’s a danger that the renewables investment – research and development etc. is in danger of being minimalised at best and totally abandoned at worst?

    And you know yourself, the waste issue isn’t about to go away. In all these years if nuclear know-how, there hasn’t been anything close to a solution to the radioactive waste problem.


    January 11, 2008 at 8:03 pm

  2. Maybe Pete thinks waste is … a waste of time. Something to be … casually dismissed. 🙂


    January 11, 2008 at 8:30 pm

  3. Earthpal,
    We need a mix of energy technologies. The balance of that mix depends on a range of factors apart from money. How these equations map out in 20-40 years time is a matter of educated guesswork. The government wants a balanced package including nuclear, wind, solar,energy efficiency measures etc. We can’t afford to go on postponing decisions in fear of making a mistake, we have to run with what we have. This applies in particular to the waste issue, we need a solution and a plan. Even if our nukes disappeared overnight, we would still have over 50 years’s worth of waste sitting around. The disposal facility must surely be capable of being configured to accomodate the historic and ongoing waste.

    Matt, that’s a cheap shot. You should know by now that I never dismiss anything casually.

    Pete Smith

    January 11, 2008 at 10:50 pm

  4. But don’t you feel the waste issue has been casually or very purposefully kept out of the current re-launch of the nuclear building programme? Surely building stations & dealing with the waste needs to be discussed, particularly where it’s going to end up.


    January 12, 2008 at 10:21 am

  5. There are 18 pages in the White Paper dedicated to discussing waste management and disposal.

    Pete Smith

    January 12, 2008 at 12:34 pm

  6. Yes but the public don’t read White Papers. They rely on the media to break down the information into bit sized chunks and to summarize the issues. If the main stream media aren’t doing this then maybe bloggers like yourself could try, especially if one is so in favour of the nuclera option.


    January 13, 2008 at 3:04 pm

  7. As with any of these things, there’s an important scientific debate to be had. However, it’s important to be aware of the large corporate lobby groups, similar to those that muddy the waters on climate change, that have a massive influence on nuclear policy. I recommend SpinWatch.

    Another thing to consider is that, on their own, a new generation of nuclear plants aren’t going to make fossil-fuel power stations go away, any more than building more roads will ever relieve congestion. It’s just more power being generated, one way or another, and it’s all going to end up being used, one way or another – and most ways of using it are pretty polluting.

    Of course, no-one but the craziest of hippies is suggesting we just turn off all power generation, but we’d be equally delusional to think that this nuclear relaunch is simply their to cover for a massive decommissioning of fossil fuel stations. It’s not. In fact, coal mining is undergoing something of a renaissance here as well, and they’re both just sides of a (very vague as far as I can tell) policy to expand power generation.

    Even if there aren’t serious environmental reasons to be wary of nuclear (and I rather suspect that there are), this scheme should be opposed on those grounds alone.

    (Now that scary “watching you” smiley is still there. There’s an option to “disable” it, but I feel guilty about breaking his smiley yellow little legs. What gives?)


    January 14, 2008 at 1:05 am

  8. Dave, I’m intrigued by your surveillance smiley, tell us more. Perhaps it’s a Manchester thing.

    Pete Smith

    January 14, 2008 at 8:54 am

  9. Matt, I’m sorry, I misunderstood. When you suggested the waste issue was being kept out of the relaunch, I assumed you meant by the government. As far as the media go(es), I don’t really recognise the picture you paint. I think the waste issue has been covered quite adequately, considering it’s not a brand new problem but has been there for 50 years. A problem, by the way, that should have been solved decades ago.

    Pete Smith

    January 14, 2008 at 9:03 am

  10. Only I can see him? That’s more terrifying still! Under the comments box, there’s a little smiley followed by the words “You’re being watched. Disable.”


    January 14, 2008 at 9:28 am

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