When it comes to energy, we don’t know what’s good for us

Credit: kmichiels

Most of us in the public don’t have the knowledge to rationally respond to consultations on power stations. For that reason, big energy decisions aren’t made through local planning authorities. So why do we spend lots of time and money asking people whether they want certain kinds of energy plants?

We need nuclear power to meet our energy needs. A mix of renewable energy technologies in the right places could also make a difference. Unfortunately, when we ask people, they say they don’t want nuclear. Until a better technology comes to market we need to get real about our energy problem.

The draft national policy statements on energy were supposed to be presented to parliament in Spring 2011. They supported nuclear power with no public subsidies. Government will be reconsidering the national policy statements on energy in light of the recent damage to nuclear reactors in Japan. I think this was a political decision to avoid making an unpopular choice at a time when the public is in a heightened state of fear about nuclear power. Why should we base our national energy policy on the what the public thinks? Afterall, in the general public our judgements of nuclear are informed by media hype and conflicting information that is often inaccurate and biased.

The TCPA journal just published an article on the consultation process for a new nuclear power station at Hinckley Point in West Somerset. Out of the 258 questionnaires that the consultation programme received back, “only 6% of respondents are wholly or mostly in support of EDF’s stage 2 proposals, while 94% are wholly or mostly opposed.” That is a staggering amount of anti-nuclear sentiment. I can’t help wondering, what do those people think is powering their homes and offices?

Seriously, where do we get our energy from and can we avoid nuclear?  Well, according to James Lovelock,

at present the major energy sources are: fossil-fuel combustion, nuclear energy and energy from flowing water. None of the fashionable ‘renewable energy’ sources have yet made a significant impact on supplies, and of these only solar energy has a chance of delivering in time to offset climate change.”

So, if we’re scared of nuclear, fossil-fuels are dwindling and we’ve run out of major sites for hydropower in the UK, let’s have renewable energy. Well, communities find a lot of reasons to object to that too.

When it comes down to it, I don’t think we should be given the option to decide on the particulars of our energy generation. We simply don’t know enough of the facts and we let our own interests trump those of the nation or globe (aka NIMBYism).

Credit: London Permaculture

I think it is important for energy companies to engage with the local communities that may end up with nuclear power plants.  Residents should get something in return for the nuisance of a massive power plant in their backyard and the additional pressures that incoming employees would put on local services.

Unfortunately, the residents in West Somerset “found it hard to engage with the concept of community benefits with many seeing them as a bribe.” The fact is, if the Secretary of State allows it, the nuclear power plant will go in whether they take the ‘bribe’ or not.

These are my own views and do not represent the views of PAS.

If you’re reading this post and you are unsure about nuclear, ask yourself the five questions from Damian Carrington:

  1. “Do you think the global community can prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and, if not, do you think it can prevent a nuclear weapon being used?
  2. Is the hazard of climate change greater than that posed by a nuclear disaster?
  3. Is global political will too weak to create a low-carbon energy future that does not involve nuclear power and in time to avert climate chaos?
  4. Is nuclear power vital to ensuring the security of energy supply?
  5. Can the full costs of nuclear truly be calculated?”

If you don’t know your answers to these questions, read his blog post (see below).


  1. Powering up the community – consulting on nuclear, John Baker and Serena Ralston, Town and Country Planning Journal, March 2011, pages 133-137.
  2. Draft national policy statements on energy and associated infrastructure on the DECC website
  3. Unsure about nuclear power? Here’s the five questions you must answer to decide, Damian Carrington, The Guardian, 21 April 2011
  4. Risk Assessment by M. Ragheb, 2011, Table 4
  5. The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning, James Lovelock, Basic Books, 2009, p.100
  6. The Plan for Growth, HM Treasury and BIS, 2011, p.47

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