The UK has come a long way since the end of the cold war when debates about nuclear energy were often enmeshed with arguments about nuclear weapons.
Opponents of the nuclear arms race often brandished ‘Nuclear Power? No Thanks!’ signs in the belief that it was the technology, rather than the uses to which it was put, that were dangerous.
The issues were further clouded by Chernobyl in 1986 and vigorous and effective campaigning by groups such as Greenpeace in highlighting the possible dangers of leaks and contamination.
However, since the removal of the threat of all-out nuclear war, the nuclear energy debate has moved on, and we are faced with the prospect of expensive power cuts in the future.
Nuclear power produces around a quarter of the UK’s electricity, without generating any CO2 emissions – the government is committed to reducing the UK’s CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. But much of our ageing nuclear capacity is to close down over the next decade, and by 2023 all but one of our power stations, Sizewell B, will have been decommissioned.
Next month the government will publish the energy white paper which offers it a chance to secure the UK’s electricity supply by committing itself to maintain existing levels of nuclear power.
It is likely that the government will waste this vital opportunity by fudging the issue. It has committed to developing renewable energy rather than nuclear energy as the replacement for the future. However, renewable technology is not cheap and has its own environmental problems.
A diverse and sustainable energy policy that includes nuclear power will be vital. New nuclear power is cheaper, easier to install and more environmentally friendly than most alternatives.
Now that the cold war is over and the anti-nuclear lobby are marginalised, the government has an opportunity to guarantee our future energy needs by investing in a wide-ranging programme of nuclear power development.