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Nuclear Energy, The Wheat and The Green

wheatThe British Green Party tried something interesting this weekend:

About 200 anti-GM activists have protested outside an agricultural research centre where a genetically modified wheat crop is being grown.

Scientists at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, had been concerned that members of campaigning group Take The Flour Back would attempt to destroy GM wheat crops.

GM in this case means genetically-modified. The wheat in Harpenden has been modified with a gene from the peppermint plant in the hope that the wheat can better resist aphids. The test crop is intended to test that idea. The Guardian provides some of the questions the scientists want to answer:

Does a crop that produces a steady waft of aphid alarm pheromone repel the pests? Or are the insects indifferent if the chemical is not released in bursts, as happens in nature? Does the pheromone attract aphid predators to the crops, as suspected? Can the wheat be grown with less pesticide? What are the knock-on effects on other organisms?

The protestors have their own concerns. Tom Fenton, from Take The Flour Back, said: :

“In reality we don't really know what the effects of GM are because there's not been adequate long-term testing.

"Safety tests that have taken place have indicated things that are concerning but that haven't been followed up.

"Also, we hear a lot about how GM is going to feed the world but the majority in the developing world don't want this technology as they can see it's not going to help to feed them."

That last is just a bald assertion. If the developing world doesn’t want them, it would be because the UK Greens are preventing a market to develop. And stopping a test that will help Fenton know “the effects of GM” seems rather short sighted.

Why this attention in a nuclear blog? Well, the Greens seem –awfully – anti-science, don’t they? – luddites, even. Genetically modified foods have been accepted in North and South America, among other places, and it hasn’t raised quite such a stink (The Guardian article mentions some clumsy statements from GM specialist Monsanto that didn’t help the case for GM at all.)

There’s always the possibility that this has an anti-commercial element – the cruel insensitivities of companies and all that – and perhaps even a Day of the Triffids-like fear that the wheat will sprout legs and go on a killing spree.

This 2004 Nature article explores the issue intelligently.

Still, for me, the Green Party attitude toward GM wheat explains this better:

The Green Party is fundamentally opposed to nuclear energy, which we consider to be expensive and dangerous. The technology is not carbon neutral, and being reliant on uranium it is not renewable. We consider its use, moreover, to be elitist and undemocratic. There is so far no safe way of disposing of nuclear waste. To a degree unequalled by even the worst of other dangerous industries, the costs and dangers of nuclear energy and its waste will be passed on to future generations long after any benefits have been exhausted.

This is from the Green’s energy policy. Most of it is anti-nuclear blah-blah, but the part that’s striking is “elitist and undemocratic.” This has always seemed an inexplicable argument, false on its face. Kings and commoners both benefit from electricity – it’s as democratic and non-elite as can be – unless you mean that nuclear energy is an unholy creature of science exploited by business – the undemocratic elites. Whereas you can yourself put solar panels on your roof or a windmill in your yard.

So sinister, so silly – whether about wheat or nuclear energy.

It’s wheat.


Zac Aldridge said…
In writing on our alternative energy blog we talked about the necessity of nuclear energy by weighing it against the options: price volatility in the natural gas markets; enormous costs of wind and solar; geographical limitations of hydro.

The bottom line is that we need nuclear energy production as PART of the overall renewable energy strategy for the future.

Anyone interested can read it here:

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