Monday, January 14, 2008

I pushed Blair's Nuclear Buttons

In case anyone missed the story by Jonathan Leake in Sunday's London Times, titled "I pushed Blair's Nuclear Buttons," let me give you a quick run down.

The story discusses the role of freshly retired Labor Government cabinet level chief scientist, Sir David King, in that governments decision to build new nuclear power plants in the UK. King should be credited with a major sales job. “When I became chief scientist in 2000 Tony Blair was still very cautious about nuclear power," Jing told Leake. "He did not even have an adequate understanding of climate change until 2002. For those first two years I was battling against the odds.”

King knew that things had to change, “Britain’s CO2 emissions were steadily rising despite our promises to reduce them, and the closure of ageing nuclear power stations and replacement with gas and coal was the main reason for that. That had to stop.”

After King delivered the Zuckerman lecture for the British Association for the Advancement of Science, he was able to repeat the lecture to the British Cabinet in person. He also gave Blair a copy. “For Blair that was a turning point,” he said. “It was when he read that lecture that he realised that we had to do something about climate change.”

“I think the point is that Blair had not understood the urgency,” King said. “He knew about climate change but until then it had just been another political problem.”

King believes that there is a serious problem with ignorance of science in out society. Key decision makers simply do not understand scientific issues. This is undoubtedly true both in the Europe and the United States. King stated:

“We have an education system where kids choose whether to study science as young as 12, and now we have a society where a lot of people do not understand what science is and what it can do. There are a lot of people in politics and the civil service who are from that background. It is a huge weakness,” he said. “The absence of scientific understanding often leads to superficial decision-making. The 2003 energy white paper was a good example of that. I would not like publicly to call it amateurish but it did not tackle the problem in a realistic way.”

King told the story of how in 2003, deputy prime minister John “Punchy” Prescott believed that a ministerial committee had reached a decision to ignore nuclear power and concentrate on renewables. “That was when I put my hand up,” King told Leake, “and told him I still did not believe we could cut CO2 without nuclear power. Nor would I pretend I had changed my mind.”

Prescott “went ballistic”, shouting about collective responsibility and thumping the table. “I wondered if I was going to get punched,” King recalled.

Margaret Beckett, the then environment secretary got Prescott under control. She told Prescott that King was suppose to be an independent voice and not a cabinet hack. A year later, King dot an invitation to visit Prescott. "I went to see him and he apologized, saying I had been right about nuclear after all. He had simply been too worried about the public reaction to supporting nuclear to agree with me.”

You can read the whole story here.

Comment: This is an important story. King makes quite clear the role fear and ignorance play in the "Green" opposition to nuclear power. The fear mongering Greens continue to replay the same old tired scratched record, without taking a serious assessment of our energy future, or an objective review of nuclear safety. In a speech delivered in November to the Foundation for Science and Technology, King emphasized the importance of nuclear technology in fighting global warming:

“Alternative technologies and energy-efficiency gains will certainly help the UK to achieve our target of reducing emissions by 60 per cent by 2050,” King said . “But we will also need to look at other low-emission ways of making energy. It is now the time to give the green light to nuclear energy. While I have high hopes for new zero-emissions technologies in the future, efficient nuclear-fission power stations are already available."

King has stated that global warming is a more serious threat to our society than terrorism. The fight against global warming comes in three stages. The first stage is to overcome the denial of the problem promoted by the fossil fuel lobby. The second step requires overcoming of the opposition to nuclear power by the pro-fossil fuel green interests. The final step involves the mobilization of society is a quasi-warlike effort to systimatically alter energy production and distribution in advanced societies.

King has focused on the first two steps. The third step has yet to be invisioned, and will not be until we have effectively completed the first two. How far we are from completing the second step can be judged by this attack on King by George Monbiot. Monbiot, posing as an expert on science, bites on Amory Lovins absurd dribble, hook, line and sinker.

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