Nuclear power: a clean solution or a cul-de-sac?

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Far from being a guarantee of a greener future, the revival of nuclear power would be a costly cul-de-sac. Au contraire, nuclear energy can be cheap, clean, abundant and secure. Europe will never meet its carbon emissions targets by wind and solar power alone.

Two visions of the nuclear future – a sceptical British view and the enthusiastic official French view – collided head on at yesterday's Lyon environmental conference.

Tom Burke, a former head of Friends of the Earth and a leading anti-nuclear campaigner, took his nuclear scepticism into the most pro-nuclear, and nuclear-dependent, country in Europe. He was opposed by France's "Monsieur Nucléaire", François Roussely, former president of Electricité de France (EDF) and the man charged by President Nicolas Sarkozy with charting France's nuclear future.

Mr Burke, a regular adviser to British energy ministers and the Foreign Office, said his anti-nuclear arguments went beyond fear of radioactive leaks or the proliferation of nuclear arms, or worries about waste. A nuclear revival would soak up the "capital and skills" which would be better invested in "more reliable and less costly low-carbon energy technologies".

Mr Roussely said there were three arguments for nuclear power. It was clean, cheap and more secure, geo-politically, than oil or gas.