I joined the Liberal Party as a student journalist in 1979, immediately after Margaret Thatcher’s election victory.
I did so partly because Dermot Roaf – later to be one of the few people outside government to fully understand the rate support grant process but then the Liberal candidate for Oxford City – talked me into it for about three hours one morning when he should have probably have been out campaigning.
But there was another reason. It was because I had decided that the dash for nuclear energy was a big mistake, not so much because of the dangers – but because avoiding those dangers will be ruinously expensive.
I had been impressed by the way the parliamentary Liberals, then just 14 strong, had forced the government into a debate about the expansion of nuclear reprocessing at Windscale – as it was still called in those days – and had been the only ones to vote against.
Those were the days just after Harrisburg, but before Chernobyl and Fukoshima – when someone like Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb, could complain about Jane Fonda in the film The China Syndrome that overtaxing his heart to give evidence to Congress meant that he was “the only one whose health was affected by that reactor near Harrisburg. No, that would be wrong. It was not the reactor, it was Jane Fonda. Reactors are not dangerous.”
Despite this, Harrisburg closed down the development of nuclear power in the USA and here in the UK. It has only begun creeping back again as a home grown alternative to fossil fuels, which are raising the planet’s temperature, and because the far cheaper wind and solar power will occasionally need back up.
It sems to me that the obvious vulnerability of nuclear plants in the Ukraine must finally rule out their development in the UK at least.
In the 1970s, when we had spent the past two decades at peace, it might have been possible to believe that nobody would attack these islands for the lifetime of the AGR reactors. But not now.
What has been happening in Ukraine shows that we all have to hope that the Russians won’t bomb the site of Chernobyl or other nuclear sites. If nuclear energy had been developed before 1939, could we have relied on Hitler to have refrained from bombing our nuclear plants? I don’t think so.
Quite the reverse. Both sides would have targeted the other side’s nuclear sites, aware that a hit would not just damage their energy supply, but it would also have made the surrounding areas uninhabitable.
That is before we even mention terrorism.
Why would we build that kind of infrastructure in our land – because it would be a hostage to fortune, and to enemies of all kinds?