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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

No Go Nukes

Air Date: Week of

Britain’s Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper tells host Steve Curwood why Hugh Montefiore’s views on nuclear power are incompatible with his organization’s mission. Juniper believes that a program of conservation and alternative energies are key for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.


CURWOOD: Joining me now is Tony Juniper. He is the executive director of Friends of the Earth in Great Britain. Hello, sir. Welcome to Living on Earth.

JUNIPER: Hello there.

CURWOOD: Let me ask you about this. We’ve just heard from Hugh Montefiore, who says he was forced to resign from Friends of the Earth because he changed his opinion on nuclear power, that is, he favors it now. Tell me, how accurate is his account and from your view, why was he made to resign?

JUNIPER: We had a long debate inside Friends of the Earth. And we again, we’ve reviewed our policies as we go forward, most recently in lobbying to influence the British government’s Energy White Paper, and at that point, we did further analysis. We took a further view about the pros and cons of nuclear power and we decided that our position should remain unchanged and that we would continue to argue that nuclear power was not necessarily desirable. Hugh disagreed with that, but he remained on our board of trustees, which was fine. And we have debates inside the organization, and that’s all part of how we evolve our policies.

But Hugh decided he wanted to speak outside, and for a campaigning organization, having representatives or people speaking apparently for the organization with two completely different policies wouldn’t work. It would be a waste of our supporters’ money, and make us ineffectual as an organization giving clear messages to the public and policy makers. And so we said to Hugh that if he wished to go outside and make these points in the media, and in public forum and to propose policies that were pro-nuclear, then he couldn’t do it while still being on the board of Friends of the Earth, and so Hugh chose to resign.

CURWOOD: Why does Friends of the Earth disagree with the opinion that nuclear power is perhaps not preferable but, nonetheless, necessary at this time?

JUNIPER: I think the first thing to say that even if in this country we managed to double our nuclear power output, and we have quite a few nuclear stations here contributing about 20 percent of our electricity. Even if we doubled the number of nuclear stations which would cost many, many billions of pounds, it would take at least 15 years and it would a hugely controversial and logistically very difficult. Even if we did that, we would reduce our carbon dioxide emissions from this country by about eight percent, so it would be a relatively small figure. Now, that multi-billion pound sum, if that was spent on simple energy efficiency programs on a basic public awareness campaign to get people to switch to more energy efficient devices in their homes, and to use their energy more sensibly, we think that you could get much more than eight percent and still have plenty of money leftover to begin the proper investment in the renewable energies which, in the future, cannot only fight climate change but avoid some of the other risks and costs that come with nuclear power.

CURWOOD: Measures such as conservation to deal with greenhouse gases have been around for a long time. It’s not happening.

JUNIPER: No, it’s not.

CURWOOD: So folks say that look, the infrastructure, the financial infrastructure is there to get nuclear power bumped up, and that this may not be the best response, but given the global warming emergency, it is at least a response, or perhaps it’s all hands on deck, it’s conservation and nuclear power make sense.

JUNIPER: Yes, well, conservation is going to be an essential part of whatever we do. And we have to look forward to new technologies coming quickly on stream which make the most of the energy that we do produce. But we don’t believe that nuclear power is necessary as one of the generating sources that we can rely on in the future. There’s a great deal of research and development going on in this country and in other parts of the world on a whole range of renewable energy technologies from wind power, which is now coming on stream here, and it’s producing an increasing contribution of electricity to our national grid. We have bio-mass energy which is being installed. We have an embryonic, but fast-moving wave and tidal power industry coming along. And for some time we’ve had, and it’s growing fast, an industry based on the provision of solar power, both for heating water and for providing electricity.

CURWOOD: All right, let me ask you right there, what is the potential for wind, solar and tidal power…

JUNIPER: Well, it’s awesome.

CURWOOD: But of the total energy budget there in England, what proportion of greenhouse gases could you reduce with those?

JUNIPER: Yes, well, the Department of Trade and Industry in this country has calculated that we can meet all of our energy needs in this country from wind alone. We wouldn’t want to do that because we’d like to have a diverse supply of energy so that when the wind isn’t blowing as hard as it might be at other times, then we can rely on tidal, wave, and solar and bio-mass energy to top it off, and, of course, hydropower. And this is not to say there wouldn’t be any fossil fuels. What we’re talking here is about a scenario with the phase-out of fossil fuels and the bringing in of renewables, and that may take several decades. And building up a diverse platform of renewable energy can in this country meet all of our energy needs. That point has been made, and it’s been endorsed by government, and that’s where we need to be heading.

CURWOOD: Is it happening now, though?

JUNIPER: Well, sadly not. We need to be doing more in this country across all of these new renewable energy technologies, but the opportunity won’t just happen on its own. It’s not going to happen simply through the market picking up renewable energy. It does need to have active assistance from governments. That’s what they’ve been doing for the nuclear industry for the last 50 years. They now need to shift that assistance towards the energy supply of the future because our children, I think, demand that we do take this choice rather than bequeathing them a nuclear legacy.

CURWOOD: Tony Juniper is executive director of Friends of the Earth in Great Britain. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

JUNIPER: My pleasure.

CURWOOD: Coming up: why the primitive horseshoe crab may be worth as much as a state-of-the-art laptop computer. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: John Hall “Plutonium is Forever” NO NUKES—THE MUSE CONCERT FOR A NON-NUCLEAR FUTURE (Elektra – 1979)]



Friends of the Earth statement on the resignation of Hugh Montefiore [Word document]


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