Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Nuclear Power

I went along to a Stockholm Network / Economist debate on the role of Nuclear Power yesterday evening.  The motion was: "We must embrace nuclear power to solve global warming"

Speaking for the motion were Paul Domjan (an energy security expert) and Patrick Moore (of Greenspirit, formerly of Greenpeace).  Speaking against were Dr Caroline Lucas MEP (Green Party) and Professor Tim Jackson (Sustainable Development Commission).

The Economist's Vijay Vaitheeswaran was the humorous and effective chairman.

I found Patrick Moore amusing and forceful and thought Dr Lucas entirely unconvincing and disingenuous but was most impressed by Professor Jackson. He headed a commission that looked into the role of Nuclear Power (details here) and came to the non-intuitive (for me, at least) conclusion that pursuing nuclear is not necessarily the best current solution to our energy security and climate change needs. His reasoned, evidence-based approach to debate eclipsed Dr Lucas' over-the-top, hand-waving, alarmist style and gave me pause. I had previously been a strong supporter of restarting our nuclear programme and, although I still am, he made me think again.

I've just signed up for a copy of his report (here)

I should say that I wasn't entirely convinced by all his arguments, however. One of his pointswas a moral one (essentially that it's not right that we impose the costs of nuclear clean-up on future generations without truly accounting for the cost). However, he seemed to ignore the reasonable assumption that future generations will be unimaginably wealthier than us and the argument that it is possible to treat waste in such a way that its half-life is manageable and so put a limit on the liabilities we are imposing on the people of the future.

It was an interesting night.


James Aach said...

One of the difficulties in the nuclear debate is that few of the major commentators have ever worked in a nuclear plant themselves. Would you trust a car review from someone who doesn't drive? If you'd like an insider's perspective on the good and bad of this energy source (from across the pond) see http://RadDecision.blogspot.com.

Ben said...

I don't agree that your assumptions about future generations are necessarily reasonable. More wealth doesn't imply better ability to handle nuclear waste, and economic growth may not be inevitable.

On the other hand, economic growth (and the environment) in the medium term seems more likely to be harmed by using up the remaining fossil fuel.

I found George Monbiot's story The Denial Industry in the Guardian today interesting and it is at least tangentially relevant.

Richard Brown said...

James: Thanks for the link.... not sure how long it will be before I get time to read the novel but it sounds like a fantastic idea for a book.

Ben: Thanks for the links... I agree that there's no reason to be sure that economic growth will continue. However (and without yet reading either of your links), I think it's at least a reasonable assumption (I hope!)