Nuclear energy still needed

THIS MONTH'S incident at Sizewell was bound to cause alarm - radioactivity is an emotive subject because it is immediately associated with health problems and cancer.

THIS MONTH'S incident at Sizewell was bound to cause alarm - radioactivity is an emotive subject because it is immediately associated with health problems and cancer.

And the fact is there is no clearer in your face demonstration of radioactivity than massive great nuclear power stations.

So any problem involving nuclear material at a nuclear power station is always going to attract concern and headlines - and those dealing with the material need to understand that.

What is most worrying from my point of view is not that the incident happened - 40,000 gallons is a lot of water but I'm prepared to accept it isn't that toxic - it's the way the news got out.

Because this was a “level one” event (that is the lowest on the international scale of nuclear accidents with Chernobyl being level seven) it would have been reported in a fortnightly newsletter published by Sizewell A bosses and sent out to local civic leaders and media organisations.

That's just not good enough. If there are problems like this then they have to be open about them within hours, if not minutes.

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It's only if people living in the area believe they're being told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as soon as possible that there will be full confidence in the operation and decommissioning of nuclear plants.

Part of the problem is, of course, that security has to be tight around any plant using nuclear material - you don't want to make it too easy for Al Quaida to turn up and steal materials that could be used in a dirty bomb.

But there is a difference between security and secrecy. One is a necessary evil while the other is a real hindrance to gaining and retaining public support for the industry.

I still believe that there is a place for nuclear power in the Britain's energy industry.

The waste it produces may be extremely toxic, but at least the amount it produces is relatively small and it is more manageable than other forms of power generation.

Over their lifetime nuclear plants prevent the release of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - and they provide a far more reliable source of power than sustainable sources like wind or solar generation.

However if they are going to be accepted by the population as a whole, their bosses do need to be much faster to explain what is happening - and see the public as an ally and not just people who are not capable of understanding the finer points of nuclear power generation.

PREPARE yourself for battle! Over the next year or two I can see a major tussle emerging all over the country - and particularly here in Suffolk - over a load of old rubbish.

We've already had the first shots fired in the battle with Suffolk County Council promoting the idea of building an incinerator to dispose of waste and generating electricity.

But over the next 12 months more proposals to deal with the increasing waste problem are set to come forward - proposals which are set to cause a great deal of anger and consternation.

At present this country throws out far too much rubbish. Everyone must accept that . . . and accept that we all have a part to play in cutting this total.

Much of the blame can be lodged with the nation's supermarkets and food manufacturers.

Anyone who has ever bought a pre-packed cake knows just how much packaging you have to get through to reach the product you want.

There is also much other daft packaging - who needs bananas or oranges wrapped in clingfilm when they come ready-packaged off the tree? Why do so many cuts of meat come on polystyrene trays that cannot be recycled?

Why does any pair of shoes or electronic device come with enough cardboard to fill up your blue bin single-handed?

But while everyone should try to persuade retailers to cut down on packaging, we all have our own part to play - by recycling, by trying to cut down on the resources we use, and by understanding when councils try new ways to reduce waste.

It's just not good enough to say: “We pay council tax for them to take our rubbish away - why should we sort it out first?”

The fact is that if we don't sort our rubbish then councils will have to pay much more to get rid of waste and that will be reflected in our council tax bills.

It is significant that Germany, whose population is half as large again as Britain, produces only just over half the amount of waste that we do.

We have to work hard to reduce this gap - doing nothing is simply not an option.

IT'S perhaps not the best thing for a political editor to admit, but I'd never heard of government minister Ian Pearson until this time last week.

He's the environment minister who grabbed the headlines by taking aim at airlines for their impact on greenhouse gases and in particular at Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary whom he described as the “irresponsible face of capitalism.”

For that he's become something of a hero to me. He's hit the nail on the head. This country - no, this planet - cannot sustain an ever-expanding airline industry.

It is bonkers to fly from London to Glasgow or Paris when you can travel much more sustainably by train.

It is obscene that the government and transport industry has developed a series of fares and taxes that make flying cheaper than better alternatives.

I just hope that after making the headlines, Mr Pearson goes back to his colleagues Gordon Brown, transport secretary Douglas Alexander and DTI chief Alastair Darling and tells them they should stop cosying up to airlines and airports and to start taking some action which really will save the planet.