Monday, 18 December 2017

Harrington needs to learn humility or be humiliated

You report energy minister Richard Harrington as asserting that critics of nuclear power were “naïve and simplistic.” (“Revival for reactors,” Business Section, 10 December 2017; ), as he advocated further development of nuclear.

Mr Harrington has only been energy minister since 14 June this year. His background before he entered Parliament in 2010 was in property development. In university, he studied jurisprudence at Oxford. He has no background whatever in energy policy.

I was appointed by one of his predecessors as energy minister, Charles Hendry, as one of two non-governmental organization (ngo) representatives to the minister’s Geological Disposal Implementation Board for long lived radioactive waste, the remaining dozen  being representatives from the nuclear industry.

My abiding experience on that Board was the number  of times over three years participation  the almost Panglossian predictions of success of the nuclear sector turned out to be wrong, and the more cautiously critical contributions of the ngos turned out to be right.

Eventually the minister wound up the Board as he realised the UK was still years away from any form of “implementation.”

Personally, I have forty  years’  experience  (including a PhD in nuclear reactor choice) in  analyzing nuclear energy  policy - in the UK and abroad - and have published and spoken widely on the issue.

Mr Harrington would be wise to sound out the wider views of nuclear critics, whose predictions have a forty-year record of much  more accuracy than nuclear advocates.


  1. The author has 40 years' experience as a professional anti-nuclear campaigner, and, I see from Linkedin, two sociology degrees and a PhD in nuclear policy (presented ambiguously here as "in nuclear reactor choice"). The "wider views" of "nuclear critics" which, the author suggests should be "sounded out" in fact, a decade ago, had already supplied the Blair government with the narrow base of professional environmentalist justification for an utterly inadequate decarbonization policy without any meaningful provision whatsoever for low carbon baseload power stations.

    In 2006 the energy illiterate views of (mostly social sciences educated) paid anti-nuclear campaigners with vested policy interests and confirmation bias accumulated over decades hardly needed to be "sounded out". But were rather forced on the government of the day through aggressive and misleading propaganda tactics, such as the Greenpeace TV advertisement shown shortly in the aftermath of 9/11, depicting a family cowering in fear as a passenger airliner was flown into Sizewell B. It is instructive that the head of Greenpeace at the time (Tindale) and the lead energy and climate campaigner of FoE (Worthington) subsequently left to become pro-nuclear campaigners.

    Within BEIS this legacy of anti-nuclear NGO folly, vacillation and negative input to energy policy making will be clearly understood as the context within which the current minister's remarks have been made.

    Unfortunately the general public have forgotten too much of this history. But as climate change crises loom and the consciousness of the need for nuclear energy to mitigate it grows, the historical context of our current predicament will be uncovered. Those who made it their profession to mislead and hamper effective decarbonisation policy for decades will be more than humiliated, but widely scorned.

  2. I welcome well argued and supported comments on my blog: unfortunately this one lacks the merits of both. The full title of my (1987) PhD thesis is : "Nuclear Powers: An assessment of nuclear decision making, 1932-79, with special reference to the Anglo-American Atomic Relationship, and I can assure the anonymous Aux 88 that it specifically explores reactor choice in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

    If Aux88 wants to s contribute to a sensible discussion, they should say who they arer, and provide summary credentials for their opinions. Otherwise, better to stay silent.