Hellfire and brimstone as Lovelock faces his anti-nuclear opponents

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The Independent Online

It was an occasion akin to Daniel's away fixture in the lions' den. James Lovelock came face to face with the environmental establishment for the first time yesterday since his dramatic call for a massive expansion of nuclear power.

In keeping with the biblical analogy, the celebrated green guru delivered a "secular sermon" full of "hell fire and brimstone" at the Gaia Conference in Devon yesterday. But the reaction of his audience was, at best, agnostic.

Tony Juniper, the director of Friends of the Earth, was among those who had been shocked by the offending article last month in The Independent, when the author of the Gaia hypothesis contended that only nuclear energy could prevent global warming overwhelming civilisation. Yesterday Mr Juniper remained unconvinced. "Climate change and radioactive waste both pose deadly long-term threats, and we have a moral duty to minimise the effects of both, not to choose between them," he said.

Michael Whitfield, the marine biologist, who was among the 50 experts on climate change gathered at Dartington Hall, Totnes, said: "I can see the point from energic and economic points of view but with two provisos. Nuclear power should be part of a portfolio of other approaches to energy generation. I am nervous about the social implications partly because nuclear power programmes have been linked to weapons generation and there are concerns about terrorism.

Professor Lovelock, 84, was the driving force behind this week's scientific gathering. He said he was encouraged by the initial response to his pro-nuclear ideas. He said: "I gave what I would describe as a secular sermon which was a bit full of hellfire and damnation. It seemed to go down reasonably well and I have not had any very great controversy. The other papers have demonstrated very clearly what an enormous difference a change in temperature will have on the environment.

"This is the first conference of its sort we have held. I believe everyone now accepts the basis of the Gaia theory because the evidence is overwhelming. A lot of scientists do not much like the name and prefer to talk about earth system science."

He will learn in more detail today and tomorrow how scientists have reacted to his speech when the conference moves on to discuss possible solutions and their ethical and political implications.

Among the speakers who will address the meeting today is Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's former press secretary, who is secretary of the Supporters of Nuclear Energy and is to give a paper entitled And Why Should We Not Go Nuclear. Sir Bernard is an enthusiastic supporter of Professor Lovelock's conversion to the cause of nuclear power.

"It is the one option which does not produce greenhouse gases and I hope that more scientists will come to reject the misrepresentations of the anti-nuclear activists," he said. "Conferences of this sort are very useful if they help to clear the minds of the scientists but we will only clear the minds of the general public when the message is translated into simple words."

Professor Lovelock achieved international fame with his theory that the Earth keeps itself fit for life by the actions of living things.