On debating Charlotte Vere over nuclear power

On Monday 22nd March I was invited on Radio Reverb’s “In Brighton Mondays” show to debate political issues with Conservative candidate Charlotte Vere.

I very much enjoy such debates, and the show was no exception. However it raised some interesting issues for the Tories. Firstly Charlotte spoke glowingly of food waste collection and fortnightly waste collection — waste reductions techniques the local Tory council just will not consider no matter what. When challenged on this Charlotte answered that she wasn’t a councillor and wouldn’t get involved in council-level debating. Interesting… I wonder if she and the Pavilion Conservatives see eye-to-eye, does she have the support of Tory councillors in the constituency? I doesn’t seem like it.

But sparks have been flying on another matter. Following from a debate about where wind farms should be sited, we began talking about the challenge of providing sufficient energy over the next 15 years. Charlotte suggested nuclear fusion, which I thought was an extraordinary claim. I sent out a press release highlighting my concerns over this. On Twitter Charlotte pushed back hard demanding a retraction and apology. So I got hold of the show’s recording (thanks to Charlotte & Radio Reverb’s Paul Stones) and had a listen. I’ve copied the transcript I made of the section in question at the end of this post.

Not only do I think it’s clear that Charlotte was strongly advocating nuclear power, including fusion, but that she was proposing non-uranium based reactors. That means either plutonium (which can be used for weapons and is dangerous to store with a half-life of 24,100 years) or the relatively benign Thorium. Given Charlotte kept highlighting how safe new nuclear power is, I imagine she was meaning to refer to Thorium – however there are no working commercial Thorium reactors (there are some which use a Uranium/Thorium mix but that’s an altogether different technology).

It’s a worry that someone who wants to become an MP is advocating betting our energy security on unproven nuclear technologies. There are so many technologies and opportunities for energy efficiency that could meet the challenge, and we have such a long way to go. For example I walked past a large Sainsbury’s on Easter Sunday and saw all the lights on inside despite nobody being there – what did we have to burn to keep those lights going? We can meet the energy challenge by using energy much more carefully and through a mix of renewable energies.

Debate on meeting renewable energy targets – Transcript of Radio Reverb “In Brighton Mondays” 22/3/10
Sections not in [square brackets] are verbatim
==========================================
42:54
[JK criticises nuclear]
44:06
CV I think it’s all very laudable and very um… how can I say, it’s interesting. I think the point is that in the real world we have to look at where we are now and where are we are going to be able to go in the short term. Because we have a 2025 power crunch coming up and we have to sort it out before then. So heat pumps in people’s home and solar panels on their roofs, that’s all great and if people want to do that, that’s brilliant and I’m sure they’ll be government help to allow them to do that.
But the point is we also have to consider that a huge amount of energy is used by business, by the economy and we have to figure out where we’re going to get the electricity for those too.
So if you look at the usage of the country on a daily basis, about 40,000MW. So if we want to do 25% of that, that’s a lot of electricity. Now Jason will of course say oh nuclear power it’s the most evil thing since, I don’t know, the Joker. And the point is: It’s NOT actually. Old fashioned nuclear power based on uranium perhaps was because it was of course it was all done to make warheads, but we don’t need that anymore.
So I think the thing is scientists are making great strides in going from nuclear fission to nuclear fusion so there’s a huge different type of nuclear power that could come online provided we make the commitment to actually having a nuclear component going forward.
Nuclear power is actually incredibly clean, it’s unbelievably clean. So…
JK Apart the waste that takes million of years…
CV No, no but hang on a minute! Non-uranium, non-uranium.
JK Even if you…
CV Sorry non-uranium.
JK Even if you put aside the safety fears, even if you say they are solvable, you’re talking about fusion which has been promised for how long? This is like going back to Star Trek…
CV It’s coming, it’s coming!
JK We’ll see!
CV If we don’t invest in it we’ll never know, will we?
JK Of course keep the research going. [JK then argues that nuclear hugely slow to build and hugely costly, not economical]
CV It has to stay in the mix. [referring to nuclear]
[Later on CV admits fusion not a proven technology before going back to fact that renewables won't meet needs of 2025 energy crunch.]
[Debate goes back to windfarms on the downs]