11 May 2006

What does "independent" mean?

When you read the sentence "A new independent report into the UK'’s energy needs has claimed that climate change targets could be achieved without the use of nuclear power" you naturally think that you may have landed on a devastating critique of nuclear power. But that thought swiftly vanishes when you read that the people who commissioned the report were no less than WWF, an organisation that once had something to do with wildlife. The stories becomes even more cloudy when you read the report concerned.

The revelation comes in a story that we first saw in a story at Green Consumer Guide with the title Nuclear not needed - report. No matter how respectable the people who carried out the report, ILEX Energy Consulting, and these are no bunch of lightweight academics masquerading as the Centre for Research by Very Clever People, anyone knows that a survey depends on the questions you ask, so you'd need to know the brief before deciding on the credibility of the report.

From reading the report, it turns out that "WWF has commissioned ILEX to provide a realistic assessment of the potential to achieve significant CO2 emissions reductions in the UK power sector by 2010, 2016, 2020 and 2025 without new nuclear build." Sort of makes nonsense of that first sentence.

Reading the report, albeit quickly, you get the impression that it all but ignores the question, because it was not asked to consider it, what could CO2 emissions be if we built more nuclear power stations?

When a consultant writes a report like this, they usually have some control over the way in which it is presented. Are they really happy, you have to ask, to see this report touted under the headline on WWF's press release "Energy gap is a nuclear myth"? After all, the full title of the document is "The balance of power - Reducing CO2 emissions from the UK power sector". Not qute the same thing as a damning critique of the nuclear industry after all.

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