Monday, April 17, 2006

No Alternative

A while back, I tried to put aside my knee jerk opposition to nuclear power and consider the matter afresh. My starting point was the idea that Britian needs new nuclear power stations as part of the "energy mix" in order to meet our future needs while keeping down carbon emissions. That seems to be the position favoured by Blair and it's widely reported that he has already decided to promote new nuclear power builds.

It is important to recognise is that this would not be a market solution. Nuclear power plants need government intervention. If they didn't, the nuclear industry could build away. There are no laws to stop them putting forward plans. The market, on the other hand, does not currently incentivise new builds because there's no money to be made. So it's important to acknowledge that government intervention, and by that we really mean subsidies and other financial incentives (as well as long term fixed contracts to guarantee demand for nuclear energy - something the industry calls Security of Supply Obligation), is necessary whether we go nuclear or down some other route.

The essential question, given the well known negative aspects of nulear power, is whether there are alternatives. The government position is increasingly clear; they argue that there isn't. Nuclear, they maintain, is a necessary component in our efforts to fill the "energy gap". Without it, they say, Britian will not be able to meet future energy demand while tackling emissions.

The thing is, and this probably won't surprise you, they don't seem to have any evidence to support that claim. It might as well have been plucked out of the air as far as I can tell. Actually, I'm fairly sure I know exactly where it was plucked from. It's a line which has been heavily promoted by the Nuclear Industry Association (you get one view of this article before you've got to register, beware the Back button). Would you Adam and Eve it?

Blair seems to be somehow in thrall to big business. (Note to self - it might be interesting to see if anyone involved in the pro-nuclear lobby made any donations or loans to the Labour Party in the last couple of years.) As far as I can tell, the government is now exactly echoing the NIA's new marketing campaign. This despite the fact that more than one committee, after studying the evidence, has concluded that nuclear power is not necessary to fill the "energy gap".

What I've read on the subject leads me to believe that carbon capture technologies and renewables, along with energy efficiency measures, could plug the energy gap without any need for nuclear power. This would undoubtedly need government intervention (with more investment in renewables being a priority).

For those with an objection to govenment intervention, we've covered that already. Intervention is necessary; all we're discussing is the type of intervention. It seems unlikely, again judging by what I've read, that it'd cost any more than the nuclear option. It'd also be more flexible (no need for long term government guaranteed supply contracts for nuclear power stations) so it'd allow us far more room to take advantage of any new technologies which might be discovered over the next few decades. It'd be pretty irritating if a significantly cheaper and cleaner method of energy generation couldn't be developed in this country because we were tied in to decades long contracts with nuclear power generators.

In short then, don't believe the hype. There are alternatives. Those who tell you otherwise have fallen under the spell of a well funded, well organised, propaganda campaign carried out by a group representing vested business interests. As to why Big Tone seems to love to accept these big business campaigns at face value, I'm genuinely not sure*. Is he really so easily swayed by big business? Can he really not recognise an argument motivated squarely by self-interest even as it hits him repeatedly in the face? Apparently not. He seems to absorb and embrace these pitches like a particularly naive toddler. These are not qualities I'd choose in a prime minister, I have to say.

* The ID card scheme is another. I'm fairly certain the whole thing came from a sales pitch by some clever IT marketing goons.
"Look prime minister, we have the technology. We can do this, it'll be great."
"Brilliant! If we can, we should."


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