24 May 2007

Nuclear is an adjective – but don't tell the Royal Society

In its consultation document on the future of nuclear power, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) wisely avoids using the term "nuclear option". Even the overarching White Paper avoids the phrase, except when quoting a third party exercise.

The problem with the phrase is that you will find it used in many contexts to describe the most drastic option you can take, as in nuclear weapons. For example, the "nuclear option" crops up as a description in the Washington Post of the tactics used in the US Congress to block the president's nominations for top jobs.

It isn't, then, a good idea to use the term "nuclear option" when what you really mean is the option to build new nuclear power stations.

The same need for careful use of language should also acknowledge that the word nuclear is actually an adjective. Its origins are in the nucleus. Nuclear weapons and nuclear energy depend on smashing up nuclei. Nuclear magnetic resonance, the old name for magnetic resonance imaging before the "N" word fell out of favour, also depends on doing things with nuclei.

Someone should tell this to the Royal Society. This august body, the highest in the land, by its own reckoning, when it comes to science, has put out the inevitable statement in the wake of the White Paper.

In the Royal Society response to Government energy plans we read that "in the short to medium term nuclear could be crucial in helping the UK tackle the challenges of climate change and security of supply". Nuclear what?

Picky? Yes. But when you are dealing with opponents who like to hold up nuclear weapons as a reason for not using nuclear power it seems silly to offer them a hostage to fortune.

It takes very little to use the right words. If the DTI can do it, why not the RS?

Post a Comment