We need more of those lovely nuclear power plants

If only Constable were still alive to capture the full depth and beauty of those alluring funnels
Click to follow

Of all the attempts made by Madonna and Anthea Turner to reinvent their image, none have been as outlandish as the nuclear industry's effort to rebrand itself as a green project for a healthy environment. One spokesman responded to Tony Blair's speech on global warming by suggesting the answer is to build 45 new nuclear power stations. Soon the chairman of British Nuclear Fuels will appear on the news with straggly hair covered in mud, saying, "Yeah like the planet is our mother, man, and I'm healing her by living off fallen berries and building a thermo-nuclear power plant. That's why I'm, like, handcuffed to this plutonium rod, and the cops will never pull it down, 'cos radiation's like our sister, man."

In claiming that only nuclear power can save the environment, the American Nuclear Society tells us: "Waste from other energy sources is more dangerous than radiation." So we should be thankful the world's military powers have stuck to the benign nuclear missile and not moved on to the far more lethal "coal bomb". If one of those was launched at a built-up area the soot could ruin furniture for miles.They also tell us nuclear power is cleaner than oil because "No salmon have died as a result of nuclear power plants." I was surprised it didn't go on, "It is often said there is no greater delicacy than lightly grilled Chernobyl salmon."

They also make the point that nuclear waste isn't as damaging as a spillage of oil. For example, if you sit on a beach contaminated with nuclear waste, you might get cancer, but at least it won't ruin your trousers.

Defenders of nuclear power insist it's more environmentally friendly than wind power. One supporter of the industry complained yesterday that if the wind-power programme is extended as planned, "the view from the Welsh seaside town of Porthcawl will be dominated by a monstrous phalanx of 30 turbines, standing 443 feet high." Unlike the view near a nuclear plant, where lovers of the countryside gather from miles around to catch a glimpse of the charming rustic features of Sizewell B. If only Constable were still alive to capture the full depth and beauty of those alluring funnels. Who wouldn't enjoy a picnic among the butterflies and yellowhammers that nestle gently beneath the quaint concrete towers and decorous armed security guards, with not a foul tall turbine in sight?

This isn't to deny the fossil-fuel industry is governed by an attitude just as reckless and devious. BP once spent $100m promoting a new green image, and on the day it launched its green logo, it was fined $10m for violating US pollution laws. And a Canadian energy company, TransAlta, boasted of its green credentials because, although they weren't cutting their carbon dioxide emissions, they did have a plan to feed cows in Uganda with a diet supplement to "curb methane emissions". See, we're all worrying about car fumes, but the real problem is caused by cow farts. Every time there's a little bovine pfff, there goes another chunk of the ozone layer.

But the nuclear industry takes the prizes for hypocrisy. British Nuclear Fuels recently put out a teaching pack for schools that included a section on nuclear accidents, saying "Accidents happen all the time. Can you think of some accidents that have happened in school, at home or locally?" You see, one day you might stub your toe on the corner of the bed, another day you'll fall on a button to cause meltdown, rendering a vast region of Ukraine uninhabitable for 20,000 years. The important thing is once it's all over to have a jolly good laugh and try not to do it again.

There are two problems with portraying nuclear power as green. Firstly, when it goes wrong it's bloody lethal. After the accident at Three Mile Island, the power station's own spokesman said, "Let's face it, we nearly lost Detroit." But also, it wouldn't exist unless it was lethal. Nuclear weapons aren't a by-product of nuclear energy, nuclear energy is a by-product of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear power was devised to give America the most powerful weapon on Earth, and every country that's developed nuclear power has done so as part of the arms race. For example, when Windscale was opened it was claimed this was for peaceful reasons, until it turned out the place had been quietly making weapons from the beginning. I suspect a similar motive was behind India, Pakistan and Israel building their nuclear plants. Or perhaps I'm being cynical, and they were just concerned about their salmon.

It must be healthy to encourage wind power as a route out of global warming, and the Government's own Department of Trade and Industry once suggested it could provide 40 per cent of the country's energy. But you can't help be sceptical about whether New Labour will see this through, given their track record in standing up to the demands of big business. So it's more likely that the planet's safety is handed to a form of energy that was used to carry out the biggest single act of devastation the world has ever known.

BNFL would probably argue this is classic green behaviour. Rather than throw away all that radioactivity, like noble community-minded citizens, they carefully recycle it all, as intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Comments