CLIMATE CHANGE: THE ENERGY CONUNDRUM

A St George’s House Consultation

Monday 2 to Tuesday 3 April 2012

The problem of how to reduce fossil fuel dependency can be neatly summarized
by the equation:

EC + R > NO ?

Where EC stands for Energy Conservation, R for renewables and NO for Nuclear Option. In scientific equations, the symbol > represents “greater than”. So the question posed is this: If governments world-wide want to solve the issue of climate change, should they spend the money on energy conservation and alternative sources of energy, or should they invest in nuclear power?

This is the second of three consultations on climate change. Over twenty-four hours discussion will focus on renewable sources of energy such as wave, wind, tidal, solar, photovoltaic and biomass. It will also examine what can be done to promote the use of alternative energy, for example by taxing fossil fuels and subsidising renewables.  Even Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil has accepted that “A carbon tax strikes me as a more direct, a more transparent and a more effective approach.” (January 2009)

By contrast the recent record of the UK government gives cause for concern as ministers have consistently failed to raise fuel duty and have now reduced by 50% the subsidy available to firms producing solar panels, thus threatening the jobs of 4,500 workers at Carillion. This led George Monbiot and other environmentalists to describe the current UK administration as the “most destructive since the birth of the environmental movement in the UK.” (Observer, Letters, 4 December, 2011)

Part of our time will be spent looking at the ambitions of the nuclear industry and the government proposal to build a new generation of civil nuclear reactors. A similair proposal was made by the Thatcher administration in the 1980’s but after a detailed examination of the health issues, only one reactor was actually built (Ref 1). It seems likely that these arguments are about to be recycled. Questions to be addressed include: Can nuclear plug the gap? How many reactors do we need? Is decommissioning feasible?

Democracy resides in the ability of individuals to make their voices heard above the clamour of vested interests.

Letter from Dr Robin Russell-Jones to Harold Evans after the government agreed to the introduction of unleaded fuel, May 1983

Ref. Radiation and Health: the Biological Effects of Low Level Exposure to Ionising Radiation. Eds Dr Robin Russell-Jones, Professor Sir Richard Southwood John Wiley & Sons Ltd 1987.

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