The green group’s opposition is now less ideological and more functional, and that’s a sign of maturity
Nuclear power in the UK has turned out much safer than environmentalists worried it would be.
Friends of the Earth, which feared the threat of a catastrophic Chernobyl-style meltdown in the UK, is now less concerned. Fear of nuclear armageddon was a driving force for the green movement in the UK – Greenpeace has its name for a reason.
But Friends of the Earth have revealed that their old ideological opposition to nuclear has crumbled, to be replaced by a new pragmatic opposition based on cost and build time.
In the old days nuclear was fought because of the health threat; now it’s opposed because it’s the wrong option in an energy system designed to tackle climate change.
The group denies that its position has shifted – but to me this looks a huge and significant shift – and especially controversial if you work for the UK nuclear industry and have been told for decades that your operations are a clear and present danger to the public.
The presenter Justin Rowlatt interrupted, sounding surprised: “You’re not worried about the risks from radiation?”
Of course, there are real concerns about radiation, particularly around nuclear waste… but I think it is important how this debate has shifted down the years.
The real concern now is how we get on fast with de-carbonising our electricity supply. It’s very clear that nuclear can’t deliver big changes fast.
That’s a huge risk if we’re trying to tackle climate change. With renewable technologies and with energy efficiency we could be making a difference within three or four years.
So, presented with a free hit against the risk of a nuclear accident, Friends of the Earth’s green warrior swiped at build-time, cost and grid disruption. Further prompted on safety he swiftly shifted to the intractable problem of waste, and did not mention accidents at all.
Does that mean if nuclear stations were cheap and quick to build and we could bury the waste somewhere, nuclear would become respectable? Well, the group told me later they were just as concerned about accidents as ever – but the cat was out of the green bag.
See earlier Guardian article, “Friends of the Earth denies dropping nuclear opposition“