Future of Nuclear Energy: Powerful Issues

The German government’s decision to phase out nuclear power, and shortcomings at Britain’s Sellafield reprocessing plant, have pushed nuclear energy to the top of the agenda again. The issue will never go away, but how well informed are the choices made about it?

The World Today Updated 26 October 2020 Published 1 January 2001 5 minute READ

Peter Beck

Associate Fellow, Energy and Environment Programme, Chatham House

Malcolm Grimston

The civil use of nuclear energy has been contentious since it began in the 1950s. Rightly or wrongly it was associated with production of plutonium for the military and with providing reactors to propel submarines.

Although the first civil nuclear power programme was launched in Britain, the main push for development was driven by the politics of the Cold War and spearheaded in the West by the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The US President and Congress gave the Commission absolute decision-making power within the US on military and civil nuclear matters. This was based on the presumption – perhaps understandable at that time – that nuclear energy is so complex that only the experts in that organisation could adequately understand the issues.

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