At first it looked like a journalistic coup, writes Neil Crumpton – the BBC’s ‘scoop’ that FOE was no longer opposed to nuclear power. Except that FOE remains firmly anti-nuclear as it has been for decades. The spotlight must now be turned on the BBC itself, and its little-known but shocking links to the nuclear industry.
The analysis was way from accurate according to FOE – but the top-line message remembered by busy listeners and readers means damage will have been done – and at a critical time in terms of the impending EC nuclear state-aid and Hinkley C investment decisions, which have global implications.
What Friends of the Earth are really saying
FOE is saying, after refreshing their policy in 2013, that the high cost and long build-times of new nuclear reactors are currently more dominant concerns to them compared to nuclear accidents.
That concern reflects the vital fact that the £10s or even £100s of billions the Government is preparing to sink into nuclear power is money that will not go into the real answers – renewables and energy conservation. Worse, they will cause energy market distortions that will further undermine renewables.
It’s also important to realise that as a solution to climate change, nuclear power is currently a ‘bit player’ producing just 2.6% of global energy: 2,600 TWh/y out of a global final energy demand around 100,000 TWh/y.
Nor does it offer significant opportunities for growth. The WNA optimistically estimates a nuclear capacity of 400GW – 640 GW by 2035. Taking a figure of 540 GW, that would generate around 4,000 TWh/y in 2035 of a projected global energy demand of 140,000 TWh/y - just 2.9%.
Nuclear would be hard pushed to ever supply beyond 5% of future energy demand unless fast reactors – the great hope of George Monbiot, Mark Lynas, Baroness Worthington and some others – were ever proven at utility scale.
And that’s highly improbable, given the wasted billions invested in the technology, and decades of failure to deliver an economically viable solution. So nuclear power is hardly a crucial or key technology, as ministers keep arguing.
The other issues remain – and they are of critical importance
The increasing concern in the core issue of climate distraction does not mean that any other issues have materially reduced, the crumbling storage ponds etc at Sellafield are still a clear and present danger, probably more so year on year.
Oddly and alarmingly such major security issues have not featured in most environmental, political or public debate. Yet, the UK is on the brink of being in the forefront of rescuing a dangerous, dodgy and discredited nuclear industry from an investment abyss and placing it centre-stage of a low-carbon energy global policy.
Hitachi is even considering moving its HQ from a contaminated Japan to a lucrative London. The Government is essentially promoting the spread of nuclear technology, materials and expertise around the world, where a few kilos of plutonium or U233 (from thorium reactors) can make a bomb that can change that world.
Is the BBC unbiased on nuclear power?
The article is replete with other outrageous twists. There is something alarming when any journalist writes an article like this. It is more alarming that the BBC environment analyst is doing this.
Perhaps it is not surprising given that two BBC Trust figureheads of this world-respected media organisation are paid advisers to EdF: acting chair Diane Coyle and ex Chair Lord Patten; moreover Coyle is married to the BBC’s technology correspondent.
Is it possible that the BBC Trust’s links to EdF have effects down the ranks of the organisation and permeate the minds of journalists without a word being spoken – a silent, almost subconscious influence?
The Trust can say all it likes about having “no control over editorial content” – but it does not need control. Trust members also adjudicate editorial complaints so one could question the time and effort in complaining about Harrabin’s article.
Regardless of any possible influence on any journalists it is remakable that BBC Trust members can receive money from such corporate interests – and even advise them on how to use the UK media to clinch one of the biggest multi-billion pound deals in British history.
Why won’t the BBC report on the real nuclear stories?
On the morning of the WNA’s conference in London the BBC should have reported relevant real issues such as AREVA’s credit-negative rating (reported on Reuters) or the month’s long safety shut-downs at EdF’s Heysham and Hartlepool nuclear reactors which could lead to capacity-crunches and Grid distortions this winter.
Drumming up stories which imply that one of the main anti-nuclear campaign organisations has made some big policy shift on the quiet is far below what the BBC and Britain was or should be about.
The BBC should refresh its policy on corporate links and the Government should re-evaluate the costs of a new-build nuclear programme. These include significant, perhaps incalcuable, national and global security risks for many future generations in the UK and globally.
Read the whole article at The BBC, Friends of the Earth and nuclear power