Thursday, 6 November 2014

Atomic advocacy should be challenged‏

This was sent as a letter to The Independent

Your lead editorial on 3 November ("Filthy lucre, dirty fuel," ) opened with the opinion: "If scientists ruled the world, we would all be safe, at least so far as climate change is concerned." (

In my experience, this is misguided, for as well as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has collectively examined the causes and courses of climate change, many scientist step outside their area of expertise in proffering "solutions."

This problem is particularly acute in the UK, with so many scientific experts proposing nuclear power as a key technology in combatting future climate change.

 For example, just today (4 Nov.), Professor Dame Julia Slingo OBE, the Chief Scientist at The Met Office in a fascinating session of the public Administration Select Committee (PASC) focused on Whitehall's capacity to address future challenges, offered her view that nuclear power must play an important role in  future energy policy to  help meeting climate change challenges.

Dame Julia is indeed an eminent climatologist, as a former Director of Climate Research in the Natural Environment Research Council  NERC)'s National Centre for Atmospheric Science and founding Director of the Walker Institute for Climate System Research. Her expertise is in cloud formation and atmospheric modeling, yet she saw fit offer her  personal opinions on the merits of nuclear energy in response to MPs' questioning.

I have found similar advocacy for nuclear in our usually esteemed learned scientific societies such as the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, which indeed do have as members and fellows many academic researchers with  significant expertise in nuclear technologies.

 But their pronouncements backing nuclear, far from being based on objective analyses, are rehashes of nuclear "cheerleading" cooked up by the lavishly funded Nuclear Industry Association and London-based World Nuclear Association, the latter of which decided to effectively exclude all critics from attending its annual symposium held in London in September, hence short-sightedly limiting any meaningful constructive criticism.

Current Liberal Democrat energy and climate change secretary in the Coalition, Ed Davey, admitted in media interviews over the weekend he had reversed his previous opposition to nuclear power because of his concerns over climate change.

It is a worry that ministers only seem to lend their ears to policy advice from nuclear cheerleaders and suspend their hitherto critical faculties when receiving  advice.

Experience over several decades suggests the nuclear industry is very bad at developing economically competitive, terrorist-resilient nuclear energy facilities, including reactors, but is very good at public relations  lobbying ,and convincing politicians to back new nuclear with spurious arguments  for nuclear's dubious low-carbon benefits, especially if the whole  nuclear fuel chain is taken into account, from uranium mining to long-term radioactive waste management.

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