The Nuclear Debate – Monbiot and Others Discuss the Pros and Cons

July 8, 2011

Yesterday, the Royal Society of Chemistry hosted a debate on nuclear. The issue at hand was whether it was possible for the UK to reach its 2030 emission reduction targets without the use of nuclear power. Arguing in favour of nuclear power was freelance journalist George Monbiot, and Malcolm Grimston, Research Fellow at Imperial College London. Arguing against was Greenpeace’s Doug Parr, and Roger Levett, an energy consultant.

We at the CNA encourage healthy debate on energy issues, one that weighs both the risks and benefits of all types of energy generation. We believe that nuclear power’s pros outweigh the cons. It is an integral part of Canada’s clean energy portfolio and must be a part of a national energy strategy.

Click to watch The Nuclear Debate on

Each speaker made seven-minute opening statements. Here are some highlight points on each:

George Monbiot (pro):

  • On onshore wind: turbine construction is enough of a challenge as it is, but the lines required to connect them are worse and have not been commented on by Greenpeace
  • Solar: unbelievably expensive, poorly matched to time of electricity demand
  • If the UK maximizes its penetration for green energy, we can hit 45% by 2030 which is fantastic, but what do we do about the rest?
  • Given the public backlash against every energy option, maybe we should suggest rolling blackouts instead as a less controversial option

Roger Levett (con):

  • To defeat this motion, we can simply stop producing and start importing energy, or if we travelled abroad more rather than locally (because then carbon is attributed to the receiving country)
  • The problem is in overindulgence – we’d be better off with cars that don’t do 0-60 quickly without the safety features required for those speeds and the entertainment features to keep your kids entertained during those trips.
  • Local economies means less energy is required for transportation, so we can eliminate huge portions of our current energy use
  • Use a behavior-based approach rather than new energy supply (people should use less energy)

Malcolm Grimston (pro):

  • Believes it’s impossible to meet our target with or without nuclear, but nuclear is going to get us close.
  • There’s a fallacy that puts nuclear and renewable against each other
  • If I could reinvent the world I would leave out the 2nd law of thermodynamics
  • If we end up in a position of playing a game with millions of participants acting for their own situation, we’re in trouble. See John Nash.

Doug Parr (con):

  • Opening comment: disappointing to be on the opposite side of George Monbiot
  • Nuclear waste: we still don’t know what to do with it
  • Proliferation: if nuclear is the answer in the UK, it needs to be the answer everywhere. If you’re comfortable with nuclear power, you need to be comfortable with nuclear power in Africa & the middle east and other politically unstable territories
  • Nuclear unduly competes with renewables for share of investment capital

Each speaker then had the opportunity to reply to the others’ opening statements.  (See Monbiot and Grimston rebuttals!) Finally there was a Q&A with the audience.

A winner was called at the end with a house vote. The result of the vote was 63-9. Watch the debate to find out which side won.

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