MPs on the Commons Science and Technology committee would like us to have a more informed public conversation about the risks attached to different kinds of energy, especially nuclear. After the disaster at Fukushima last year (pictured), opinion in the UK has not moved dramatically – in comparison, say, to Germany – but the MPs feel debate is clouded by mistrust and misperception.
‘Public trust is key to how risks are perceived. The government’s position as an advocate for nuclear power makes it difficult for the public to trust it as an impartial source of information,’ they say.
But who can command trust; who possesses the authority to counter propaganda for or against the different energy sources, for all of which a risk calculus has to be made? The MPs wonder if independent regulators might carry more credible messages to the public – but they would have to be proactive and reach out energetically to members of the public whose scientific and statistical literacy might not be great.
The report Devil’s Bargain, energy risks and the public calls for a government risk strategy team and more coordination between Whitehall departments – an old demand and one even less likely to be fulfilled in the circumstance of a coalition between two parties with distinct views about markets and the environment.
The report can be faulted for a certain lack of humility. too. MPs themselves are not the greatest advertisement for understanding risk, or probability. Their staff are not as literate as they should be in dealing with numbers. A more statistically informed parliament could give a lead, and not just in discussions about nuclear power.