Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gavin Esler Newsnight Science Blunder

I have just logged a complaint with Newsnight in protest at Gavin
Esler's question to the Greenpeace spokesman tonight (23rd October).

Esler asked "Is there any science that would make you accept nuclear power?"

That was a meaningless question.

Comprehension of the physics of nuclear power is a matter of science,
and I have no doubt that the Greenpeace spokesman was as competent as he
needed to be in his grasp of the science of nuclear power.

Acceptance or rejection of nuclear power is not a matter of science, it
is a matter of political judgement, and as a political programme Newnight
should know that.

It is a matter of balancing up risks and benefits. Some of these, such
as causation of cancer and leukaemia by internal radiation from ingested
radionuclides are indeed matters of science. Others, such as the
likelihood of a nuclear power station being hit by al Quaeda, are a
matter that can only be decided on by speculation.

So acceptance or rejection of nuclear power is a matter of judgement,
comprising many factors. The case against nuclear power has many
components, including questions such as the limited amount of high grade
uranium, the question of nuclear weapons proliferation, the lack of
meaningful insurance for nuclear power stations, the health effects of
radionuclides, the vulnerability of nuclear power stations to terrorist
attack, their vulnerability to sea level rise, the waste problem, and
the economic effect of sucking funds away from energy efficiency and

How can "science" in the abstract, as presented by Gavin Esler, overcome
that case? The question was in the same category as "Have you stopped
beating your wife?" since it is designed simply to put the interviewee
in a bad light, as holding an unscientific view.

To show that I, as an example of an antinuclear campaigner of many years
standing am not absolutist about the matter, I can say that I would be
prepared to accept nuclear power, despite the above objections, if it
could be shown that a new generation of stations could neutralise and
make safe all the plutonium and other fissile materials in the world's
nuclear weapons stocks. But that it not a question "science", it is a
matter of political will.

The use of this question puts Newsnight in a bad light. An apology is
called for, or if not an apology, then a new programme, to set the
nuclear power and weapons debate fairly in the framework of the
political framework that favours nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

This might even happen if loads of people send email to: newsnight@bbc.co.uk

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