One thousand new nuclear stations?

Gordon Brown says we must go nuclear to prevent climate change - what do you say? Get tickets now for the big spiked debate on the future of energy.

Tim Black

Tim Black
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On 25 June, spiked, in association with Clark Mulder Purdie, is hosting a live debate in central London, at which a panel of academics, environmental campaigners and leading industry figures will attempt to answer the question: can nuclear power really meet our future energy needs?

The UK government certainly seems to believe that nuclear power should, at the very least, make a significant contribution to energy supply. Following on from his official backing for a new generation of nuclear power stations earlier this year, prime minister Gordon Brown declared last week that around 1,000 new nuclear power stations will be needed around the world to fight climate change and end our global ‘addiction to oil’.

The rhetorical conviction has not gone unnoticed. ‘Not since Margaret Thatcher returned from a visit to see the French nuclear plants has a prime minister shown such enthusiasm for nuclear power’, concluded one commentator. Such talk has been music to the ears of the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), whose chairman Lord O’Neill will be speaking at next week’s spiked debate. The association remains confident that the UK’s nuclear industry will prove capable of building and maintaining new nuclear power stations without government subsidies.

Others, however, do not share the NIA’s enthusiasm. Professor Keith Barnham, co-founder of Quantasol, a solar power company, will also be speaking next week. He told spiked that ‘the Scottish National Party is correct in describing Brown’s announcement as a clear indication of “The surreal world of Labour’s nuclear obsession”. There isn’t enough easily extractable uranium in the world to fuel such a programme [of building 1,000 new nuclear reactors].’

Professor Barnham preferred instead to emphasise the potential of alternatives: ‘We are all very aware of what is happening to petrol prices now oil is starting to run out. Rather than go through the same traumatic cycle with uranium we should be promoting the renewables which don’t consume any fuel. Renewable energy is already expanding much faster than nuclear can ever do in countries that don’t have a nuclear programme.’

Fellow speaker Neil Crumpton, of Friends of the Earth, shares Professor Barnham’s criticisms: ‘The idea of selling nuclear power around the world as a solution to climate change is just nonsense. Nuclear power is limited, dangerous and requires a lot of hi-tech skills to deal with the waste. By far the better technology is renewables.’

Joining Crumpton on the panel, Dr Frank Barnaby from the Oxford Research Group and author of How to Build a Nuclear Bomb, and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, argued that a massive expansion of the nuclear industry had ‘very serious consequences for global security’.

‘The shortage of high-quality uranium for use as nuclear-reactor fuel will mean that fast breeder reactors fuelled with plutonium will be increasingly used’, he argued. ‘There will then be huge amounts of plutonium around the world, plutonium that could be used by countries and/or terrorists to fabricate nuclear weapons. The use of nuclear weapons will be virtually inevitable.’

Our fifth speaker, Professor James Woudhuysen, was likewise critical of Brown’s statement – but for very different reasons. For all his grand statements and big promises, Brown has yet to show that he is prepared to ensure that one nuclear power station gets built, let alone several, said Woudhuysen. Instead, Brown seems content ‘slavishly to follow George W Bush, who slavishly followed the Greens, who in turn slavishly followed Ivan Illich, the thinker first responsible for popularising a notion of the consumerist addiction to energy.’ Brown’s statements about nuclear power owe as much to an attempt to satisfy a Green agenda as they do to any firmly held commitment to nuclear power, Woudhuysen added.

What do you think? Do we need 1,000 nuclear power stations, or none? Who should build them? Or is it simply too dangerous – an invitation to terrorists and rogue states – to have so much plutonium around the world? Book your tickets now for what is sure to be a fiery debate.

Tim Black is organising the spiked debate, ‘Nuclear Power: what’s the alternative?’, in association with Clark Mulder Purdie. It will take place between 6.30pm and 8.30pm on Wednesday 25 June at the Royal Institute of British Architects in central London. Buy your tickets here.

Previously on spiked

Tim Black said Britain has become a world leader in dithering on nuclear power. Rob Johnston exposed 10 myths about nuclear power. Joe Kaplinsky demanded that the government put a positive case for nuclear power. Or read more at spiked issue Energy.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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