Freedom for Fission pointed me to a thought provoking article on the BBC web site deceptively titled Nuclear veterans vow to fight on. Normally, I have at least some sympathy for the fact that writers cannot cover every aspect of a story, but in this case, I have to challenge what the author left out.
First of all, the people in the linked story are not “nuclear veterans”; they are career anti-nuclear professionals who have likely never set foot inside a nuclear power plant. Instead, they have spent their careers being afraid of nuclear power and working hard to spread their fears to others. There is no indication from the article that they have ever spent time in engineering classes, in safety planning meetings, or in operations training. For the author of the story, simply protesting a technology somehow conveys some amount of expertise.
My real beef with the author’s focus is that the article is a “what are they doing now” kind of article that only focuses on actors who are on one side of a great divide. He does not attempt to find anyone from the other side and explain why they are still fighting for the technology. He also misses a wonderful opportunity for real information exchange when he mentions in passing that some of the people who are actually leading the UK government’s current policy shift toward encouraging atomic development were once on the anti-nuclear protesters themselves.
According to the article, the late Robin Cook and Alistair Darling participated in direct action against nuclear power stations in their younger days but switched their opinion as they grew older. The author implies that the shift was for political reasons, but as a reader, I really found myself wondering. The article quotes several of the people who refuse to change their minds, but it does not interview the still living person who apparently learned something that made him switch.
As a lifelong learner, I tend to think that my current opinions, informed by maturity, experience and study, are better than the ones that I held as a young man. I can often share interesting stories about what made me change my mind. (Since I am not a politician, I do not have to call the process of changing my mind “flip-flopping”.)
Here is a quote from an article published by the Independent in March 2007 titled You Ask The Questions: Alistair Darling, Trade and Industry Secretary that provides Alistair Darling’s answer to a direct question about whether Britain needs new nuclear power plants:
The big issue is whether we rule out nuclear power as an option in the future. That’s what we will be consulting on. We face two big and urgent challenges – climate change and ensuring we have secure supplies of energy. The decisions are urgent: at the moment we get about 20 per cent of our electricity from nuclear power and these power stations will be decommissioned over the next 20 years. We have to replace them and if you rule out nuclear the chances are that they will be replaced by gas which is not green and has to be imported from sometimes unstable parts of the world. Of course we must reduce demand and be more efficient and we must increase the amount of renewables. But does it make sense to exclude nuclear which is a low carbon source?
Though I am not a UK resident and only have a passing knowledge of the political scene there, I think that comment shows that Mr. Darling is a man who is driven by reason and logic. In other words, his opinion changed because he learned some things about technology and the world that led him to believe that his youthful opposition to nuclear power was no longer appropriate.