Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Energy Debate Hots Up

I have a love/hate relationship with nuclear power.

You can probably imagine what it is I ‘hate’ about it. It’s dangerous, expensive for the public purse and leaves a toxic legacy for thousands of years. A knocked out diesel generator at a reactor in Japan means raised levels of iodine in Scottish air.

But I have a curious ‘love’ of the engineering that goes with it. Maybe ‘love’ is too strong a word. I have great respect certainly for those pioneers who created the experimental fast reactor at Dounreay back in the 50s. The white heat of innovation back then must have made anyone with an interest in technology simply giddy.

This discussion between Green MP Caroline Lucas and Judge Monbiot fascinates me. He says climate change is so serious a threat we have to consider new nuclear power stations as a way of getting our emissions down. Caroline disagrees. Even Sir David King, the government’s former chief scientist and a great advocate of action on climate change, is apparently suggesting we press the nuclear button.

Since becoming a dad almost two years ago my respect for nuclear engineers has increasingly become a sort of nostalgia. The sort of ‘winging it’ attitude that went with it can seem hilarious but actually led to serious things like the Dounreay shaft explosion in the 70s. The thought of leaving Toddler and future generations with any kind of avoidable mess horrifies me.

Usually when you prod the anti-wind farm NIMBYs hard enough they’ll admit they like nuclear. It all boils down to a question of risk - what would you rather risk: a nuclear accident affecting your air, food and water or a slightly different view of the hills by putting up some windmills?

Energy consumption is a favourite hobby horse of dads, green or otherwise. Put on a jumper instead of turning up the heating! Switch off some lights; it’s like Blackpool illuminations in this house! You get the picture.

I’m a stickler for turning things off that aren’t in use. Apparently in Japan 3.9 per cent of their electricity consumption goes on heated toilet seats. While I’m all in favour of toasty buttcheeks I really do think civilised societies need to consider what we need - and I really mean ‘need’ - power for.

Amid the nuclear/coal/oil debate between SNP and Labour in the election campaign it’s pleasing to see some level-headed long-term thinking from - who else - the Greens. They plan to campaign hard to insulate all homes in Scotland, massively reducing people’s power bills and at the same time reducing our energy consumption and carbon emissions.

It’s a far-from-sexy subject but I urge you - if you bump into a candidate in the street in the coming weeks, buttonhole him or her and ask them what their position is on lagging. If they don’t have one, you have to question why they’re not in favour of cutting your electricity bill and our contribution to climate change.

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