Paul Hallows: “So the voluntarism process is sort of a smokescreen to get the nuclear industry what it has already decided that it wants?”

David Smythe: Yes, yes, exactly.

PH: If I could just ask quickly about how the debate is framed in Cumbria… in your experience during the lectures that you delivered and with the people that you spoke to, the position that you are advocating is one of explicitly saying ‘no’, and the opposing view, which the consultation partnership is espousing is a lot more wooly; it’s about uncertainty and saying ‘we need more investigation.’ Do you think they have a rhetorical advantage by
being perceived to be more open-minded?

DS: It’s a pseudo-rhetorical advantage. What they’re saying is “we don’t know enough, we must do more research – professors Smythe and Haszeldine haven’t got the full story, we need to go in and start drilling etc.’ But of course you can always say that, and it’s the same argument used by the tobacco lobby, and was used by the asbestos lobby. What they say is the research is not proven – of course, it’s also been used by the climate change denier lobby – what they say is the research is unproven, we need more research, nothing is certain. And it’s a spurious argument, and in fact there’s a whole new science grown up around this called agnotology. You’ll find the word in one of my documents. It’s a concept invented by a Harvard academic, and what it means is the deliberate fostering of ignorance. And he used the tobacco lobby as his primary example of it – how they will fund research to cloud the facts, to cloud the issues, and to try and say that the research is not settled. So it’s the same ploy being played by the MRWS process in saying ‘no, we do not yet know enough about the geology, we need to do more work.’ But what they are really saying is once they have started drilling, whether it’s over the Ennerdale granite, or whether it’s nearer to Sellafield on the plain, once they’ve started drilling and spent fifty or a hundred million quid, they will produce reports saying ‘yes it looks promising, we need to carry on, we need to drill more etc.’ and you’ll be on the slippery slope of no return. Because they’ll be producing lots of data – as Stuart calls it, a snowstorm of data – in which they’ll always say ‘yes, yes, we’re getting there, we need to do more work, we now need to open up an underground test cavern’, and before you know it there’ll be engineers saying ‘yes, there are a few problems but we can solve this by engineering’ despite the unpromising geology. So another main plank of my argument against the MRWS process, apart from its [recording cuts out] is that engineers think they can engineer their way out of any problem.

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A Voice for Cumbria
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