There are all sorts of widening fault-lines on energy policy within today’s Green Movement. In the good old days, we’d just rub along together happy in the knowledge that for almost all of us energy efficiency came first, reducing the use of fossil fuels and vastly ramping up renewables came next, with nuclear (and carbon capture and storage for that matter) largely seen as a bit of a sideshow.
No more. The emergence of an eloquent pro-nuclear green lobby has exploded that (admittedly frail and rather woolly) consensus. Energy efficiency now goes as disregarded as ever, as a new fight rages between the supporters of the nuclear industry versus the supporters of renewables.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that we’re now into a strict fight in terms of those two options. The days when people talked about “co-existence” are long gone; this is now either/or, not both/and. And disturbingly, in every single decision that the UK government has taken over the last few months, it’s clear that they’ve thrown in their lot, yet again, with the nuclear industry. Fukoshima doesn’t seem to have changed that.
There’s one simple test for this hypothesis: where do you think the debate would be if the UK Treasury put the same sort of cap on funding for the nuclear industry (including paying off historical liabilities) as it has put on funding for renewables?
It’s maddening, yet again, that the nuclear industry has succeeded in turning its wretched sideshow into the main show – even though everybody recognises that even the most optimistic scenario for nuclear means it won’t be generating any more electrons in 2040 than it is today. And I can’t help but admit to real anger at the growing number of leading Greens who’ve been co-opted by the nuclear industry as it rises once again from the dead.
So perhaps we ought to be trying harder to find common ground elsewhere – and in particular on what needs to be done now to address the needs of the 1.4 billion people in the world today who are still without electricity, and 2.5 billion people who are cooking on open stoves, often at great risk to their own health.
Our sad little nuclear vs. renewables spat obscures the fact that this is where our priorities should lie – as has been spelled out very eloquently both by Ban Ki-moon in his call for “universal energy access by 2030” and in Practical Action’s excellent campaign to persuade people to get behind this overarching priority.
There are moves afoot to tie this to the Rio +20 Conference next year – and given how dispiritingly uninspiring the current agenda looks for Rio +20, that has to make a lot of sense. It’s a goal that all our NGOs, in both the development and environment lobbies, could enthusiastically mobilise behind, and persuade us in the process to keep our falling-out over nuclear in rather more realistic perspective.