University of St Andrews

Going Nuclear? Today's Politics, Tomorrow's Legacy

Tuesday 02 April 2013

The UK has committed to expanding nuclear power but to what extent is this choice sustainable? The Fukushima disaster brought the risk of nuclear energy to the fore. The government of Japan declared a nuclear emergency in March 2011. The world watched a chaos ensue on their television screens. Radiation zones seem to increase in size on a weekly basis.

In its aftermath, supporters of nuclear energy argue such a disaster is highly unlikely in the UK. After all, a similar post earthquake tsunami off the North East coast of England appears unthinkable. If we are serious about tackling climate change, domestic secure nuclear power must be included in the low carbon British energy mix. Anti-nuclear campaigners maintain, however, that the event highlights how unsafe nuclear energy is. It may not be a tsunami next time. The relatively brief history of nuclear energy seems littered with disasters from the ‘Windscale’ incident in 1957 to the 1986 infamous Chernobyl disaster. And then, as we were reminded in 2013 Cumbria, there is the issue of waste. In any case, the subsidies needed for an effective nuclear policy are too large in this increasingly austere world. Indeed, a cost-benefit analysis of nuclear power is now etched on the public. So how do, or even should, our politicians react?

Read more from Darren McCauley in ‘Britain in 2013: Annual magazine of the Economic and Social Research Council’, available in newsagents


The article is developed out of a forthcoming multidisciplinary (law, politics, history, human and physical geography and environmental sciences) ESRC seminar series on the issue running on;

ESRC logo

Energy Policy in International Perspective (5 April 2013, Stirling)

Nuclear Energy in the UK (September 2013, Liverpool)

Energy, Justice and the Nuclear Issue (November 2013, St Andrews)


Research grant code: ES/I001425/1

PI: Dr Darren McCauley (Lecturer in Sustainable Development & Geography)

Co-Is: Professor Andy Plater (Chair in Physical Geography), Dr Pete North (Reader in Human Geography) and Dr Raphael Heffron (Lecturer in Energy Law)

For further details, please contact Dr Darren McCauley