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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

THE NUCLEAR DEBATE IN A BACK ROOM IN WEST KILBRIDE

On Monday I went to West Kilbride. A pretty enough village but fairly dead. The purpose being that BBC Radio Scotland were doing a debate on nuclear power & I felt like getting in my tuppenceworth. There were 21 of us (5 bearded including myself) in a fairly small room whose window, despite the radio having said the meeting had been chosen for "being in the shadow of" Hunterston nuclear power station, was in fact overlooked by a dozen windmills on a hill behind the village. The power station was a couple of miles out of sight. The main guests were a Mr Carrigan from a relatively pro nuclear union (relatively since he was careful to genuflect towards having lots of renewables too), a Mr Proven who builds windmills & supports them & the local MP Mr Wilson who was broadly in favour without wishing to say anything controversial.

The BBC made some play of their public opinion poll whose headline question - which would you prefer: renewables, gas nuclear or coal (they were chosen in that order) - is entirely meaningless if you discount practicality or cost. Had they also included "free electricity provided by perpetual motion machines" that would have been the correct choice since nobody could possibly object to free perpetual motion. I certainly wouldn't. A later question was on whther nuclear would be ok to prevent us being dependent on importing gas or coal, which is a somewhat more sensible question & got 54% for nuclear.

The audience was split close to evenly though with a body of "stakeholders" which means people who have no stake in the business (neither working there or owning shares), know little about it but are determined that the managers shouldn't be allowed to "get away with anything" to quote one.

I got the 2nd soundbite & said my normal bit about losing 55% of our capacity, wind producing 1.5% & thus being totally unable to replace it, at which point the windmill builder interrupted me & I am afraid I did not knock him back as robustly as I should have. Just about everybody got a soundbite. A man from "Real Labour" who kept shouting out informed us that Arthur Scargill was not pro-nuclear. A lady asked if anybody knew how much of Scotland's electricity goes south, which, somewhat to my surprise nobody, including myself, could answer. Another lady told us that since 1991 twenty people had died erecting & repairing windmills in the UK - I hadn't known that & asked her later - apparently her friend had read it in an evening class - I was surprised but not totally so since climbing 300ft towers in high winds to secure 60ft rotor blades is inherently risky - but it does indicate a certain media bias when "dangerous" nuclear has only had 3 fatal deaths worldwide since Chenobyl.

The final word was given to Mr Corrigan who fitted the fact that nuclear reactors (also coal ones) produce large amounts of hot water into a suggestion that the best place to put reactors would be where there are lots of houses to whom thay could pipe the water - preferably central London. This is actually a good point even though efficient use of nuclear is far less important than for coal & gas since it is so proportionately cheap.

On balance I am afraid the antis came out on points overall.

At the end I asked the nice young lady shepherding us how the BBC chooses guests since I had noticed that while there was one renewablist & 2 "we need both" there was nobody who, like me, favoured the French solution of 85% nuclear & 15% hydro (hydro is very good at providing reserve power). A guy I had been chatting to then agreed with me on this. In fact the BBC normally maintains balance by carefully choosing opposing viewpoints & being even more careful to select which particular opposing viewpoints.

The good news is that I will also be in the audience for the TV portion of the debate shown on Wednesday at 9.00. It is an Any Questions format & though I have put in a question the audience is about 200 people so don't hold your breath.

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