05 January 2008

Academics say safety concerns of new generation of nuclear plants not yet addressed.

A group of U.K. scientists and academics Friday condemned as undemocratic and possibly illegal the British government's plans to force through a new generation of nuclear power stations to meet Britain's energy needs for the next 30 years.

They warn that questions about the risks from radiation, disposal of nuclear waste and vulnerability to a terrorist attack have not been addressed - even though the government was ordered last February to repeat a public consultation on energy supply, after its exercise was declared unlawful by a high court judge.

Friday the nuclear consultation group, made up of 17 energy economists and several of the government's independent advisers on nuclear waste, condemned the methods used in the second attempt to gather public and expert opinion.

"We are profoundly concerned that the government's approach was designed to provide particular and limiting answers,"
said Paul Dorfman, a spokesman for the independent group, which includes professors of Oxford, Sussex, and Lancaster universities, and Rutgers in the U.S. "Those answers risk locking in U.K. energy to an inflexible and vulnerable pathway that will prove unsustainable," he added.

In an 87-page report, the group says: "Significant issues were not consulted on in any meaningful way or resolved in practice. It has left the government vulnerable to legal challenge and may lead to hostility and mistrust of any future energy decision," the paper warns.

Contributors include Andy Stirling, director of science at the Science Policy Research Unit, Jerome Ravetz, fellow of the Institute for Science and Civilization at Oxford University, Dave Elliott, co-director of energy and research at the Open University, Gordon Walker, chair of environment at Lancaster University, and Frank Barnaby, at the Oxford Research Group.

The report comes as the government prepares to give the go-ahead next week for a major expansion of nuclear power, which could herald the building 20 reactors by private firms. Prime minister Gordon Brown is convinced, as was Tony Blair, nuclear power is needed to ensure energy security and to limit carbon emissions.

The intervention could trigger fresh legal action, however. Thursday Greenpeace, whose challenge to the energy review was upheld last year, said it would wait to see the government's formal response on Tuesday before deciding whether to return to the courts. A new court case could delay the start of building stations by a further year.

The government is expected to insist it has a mandate. In meetings in the autumn, more than 1,000 people were asked their view of nuclear power after seeing videos and taking part in discussion: 44% said power firms should have the option to build nuclear; 36% said no.

A Department for Business and Enterprise spokeswoman said:

"We gave people five months to respond, longer than the average three to four month consultation period. We have received 2,700 responses from the extensive consultation, which included public meetings across the U.K., a written consultation document, and a website. Time is pressing. We need to make a decision on whether we should continue to get some of our electricity from nuclear, which is a low carbon form of making energy."

Green groups said the questions were loaded and the information presented biased and inaccurate. A complaint was made to the Market Research Standards Board alleging the market research firm involved broke the code of conduct.

A Greenpeace letter sent to the Treasury solicitors before Christmas says: "It would be unlawful for the government to make a decision to build new nuclear power stations without knowing what will happen to the new radioactive waste."

The consultation response will be a statement by energy secretary John Hutton, followed in days by an energy bill.

Intellpuke says: Ever since then prime minister Tony Blair announced a push for nuclear power, the British government, hand-in-hand, if you will, with the nuclear industry, has been trying to rush the decision and push forward with construction as rapidly as possible. Yet its first "citizen review" was found woefully lacking by a British high court which, in essence, said many of the governments statements about nuclear power and safety were inaccurate and misleading. Now, it sounds as if the second round of "citizen review" is equally lacking in objectivity regarding construction methods and safety. Contrary to what the nuclear industry would have people believe, nuclear power is not a "clean" energy. It is, in fact, about the most toxic and lethal form of energy humans have come up with. All it will take is one construction error in a key area or one successful terrorist attack because security was not adequate to create a disaster in Britain, or anywhere else that will rival, if not surpass that of Chernobyl. Just one such blunder would not only make the immediate vicinity of the incident a "dead zone" but spread that dead zone across a surprisingly large area downwind from the incident.

You can read this article by Guardian environment editor John Vidal, reporting from Manchester, England, in context here:

You can also find a link to the independent group's full 87-page report, in PDF format, at the link to this article. you can find it at

and this is its executive summary:

The public mistrust of policy decision-making on issues involving nuclear risk
is a defining issue. In order to overcome this mistrust, government has
consulted with the public about the potential role of nuclear power in future
energy policy - the idea is to weigh expert knowledge with every-day
knowledge to arrive at a democratic and balanced view. Here, the practice
and purpose of this public dialogue, and the models of engagement to enable
it, are core to the relationship between government and the public in a modern
In order to overcome the widespread belief that institutions wishing to impose
their arbitrary actions upon the public may be secretive, all the key framing
propositions and assumptions underpinning the nuclear power consultation
need to be made explicit in any case that is put forward for new nuclear power
stations. To access true public opinion about such a high-stakes issue, the
public consultation should have been clear, integrated, independent, and
conducted over a long enough time-frame. Failure to do so has left the
government vulnerable to legal challenge and may lead to hostility and
mistrust of any future energy policy decision.
Even in the most technical and sophisticated forms of analysis, it seems that
the answer you get depends on the way you frame the question. We suggest
that the key assumptions underpinning the government’s approach to the
2007 nuclear consultation remain open to critical analysis. We are profoundly
concerned that these framing assumptions were designed to provide
particular and limited answers - and those answers risk locking in UK energy
futures to an inflexible and vulnerable pathway that will prove unsustainable.
This report discusses the form and function of the nuclear consultation, and
then addresses the issues and challenges that were elided and obscured
during that consultation. We conclude that the government erred in asking the
public to take a decision ‘in principle’ for more nuclear power when significant
‘what if’ issues were not consulted on in any meaningful way, or resolved in
practice. These issues include uncertainty about: nuclear fuel supply and
manufacture, vulnerability to attack, security and nuclear proliferation,
radiation waste, radiation risk and health effects, reactor decommissioning,
reactor design and siting, cost of electricity generating technologies, energy
distribution models, true renewable and energy efficiency modelling.
We take no satisfaction that our Conclusions and Recommendations to
government are based on the understanding that the 2007 nuclear power
consultation has failed. Poor consultation practice wastes people’s time and
can seriously undermine people’s trust in government. The extent of mistrust
of the institutions and the institutional culture underpinning nuclear power
underlines that this is a public mood that, although not immutable, has been
deeply entrenched by long and discouraging experience. Although a broader,
deeper, even-handed consultation may have appeared an inconvenience to
certain sectors of the nuclear industry, a truly involving process would have
produced a better result for everyone by generating greater social consensus
and trust in the eventual outcome.

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