Saturday 4 June 2011

Time to wake up about nuclear

Here I am in a French hotel room, watching BBC World – it gets just a little exhausting after a while – and who should come on but the Lib Dem Euro-MP Chris Davies.

I have a great deal of admiration for Chris, who usually gets it right. But not this time, and in the unlikely event that he reads this, I wonder if I might ask him to think again.

The worst moment in the combative discussion was when he laughed theatrically at the German Green spokesman who claimed that 60,000 people had died as a direct result of the Chernobyl accident. “Green nonsense,” he said.

Now I joined the Liberal Party in 1979 because it its brave stance against the development of nuclear energy. It is far from clear to me whether that figure of 60,000 – which did not come from the Greens – is accurate or not. It certainly is no subject for such mirth.

Nor is it clear to me that nuclear energy, a capital-intensive and extremely inefficient, centralised solution, will actually reduce greenhouse emissions, since the business of extracting uranium, building the infrastructure and looking after the waste on a permanent basis are all highly carbon-intensive.

And the party remains anti-nuclear, no matter what compromises Chris Davies or Chris Huhne have made. These things are important because, as I have argued elsewhere, the revival of nuclear energy in the UK has the potential to be a far greater threat to the long-term credibility of the Lib Dems than student fees. And I desperately want us to be on the right side when battle is joined.

The decision by Italy and German to phase out nuclear is a wake-up call for us, and here I do agree with Chris. If the Germans mean it, and pour investment and imagination into creating a low carbon economy, how can we be against it?

But then of course, they will be that much further along the road towards a green economy – and deriving the huge efficiencies that will come from kicking the fossil fuel addiction, without pouring money into the nuclear black hole – decades before we do.

It is time we woke up instead of being cynical for the pleasure and edification of the producers of BBC World.

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