No nuclear but door open for GM, says new SDC chief Will Day

| 21st August 2009
Will Day
Sustainability in danger of becoming jargon, says newly appointed green watchdog chief

Politicians are guilty of turning sustainability into jargon, according to the new chief of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC).

Will Day, who took over as Chair of the Commission at the end of July, was scathing of the way politicians use the term 'like an ingredient on a cereal packet'.

In one of his first media interviews, Day told the Ecologist of his distrust of nuclear power and, in a move likely to anger many environmentalists, his open mind on GM technology. As well as his worry about jargon, Day said UK politicians were gripped by short-termism.


'One of the real problems for politicians and decision-makers is that they are often operating in short-term timescales where short term expediency usually wins over long-term requirements.'

He defended the recent 'Prosperity with Growth?' report that appears to have gained little support within the more powerful government departments, particularly the Treasury.

He said a new government could show more interest in the reports' findings.

'Nothing is locked in stone. There is a general election coming up. Governments have shelf lives. Policies have shelf lives. The issues are not going to go away. These are serious long-term issues,' said Day.


Day, who lives near to Dungeness power station in Kent, said the waste legacy of nuclear power made it unsustainable.

'In an unpredictable climate and world, is it right to leave as a legacy waste and management issues that don't just last five, 10, 20 years but decades and hundreds of years?'

He also said coastal erosion posed a risk to future nuclear power facilities.

'I live in a village not very far from Dungeness power station. We defend it 24 hours a day with bulldozers against erosion from the sea.

'Is that a cool thing to have a nuclear power station sitting at sea level with the thought of 10m of sea level rise?'

The SDC is due to publish a report on coal later this year and Day said the fuel raised, 'even greater problems [than nuclear]'.

He also remained sceptical of the carbon capture and storage technology (CCS). 'There is great hope being expressed that CCS will bethe answer but prove it to me. I have not seen the proof that it is feasible.'

GM food

Day, who has spent a number years working in Africa and for aid organisations like Care International, Save the Children and Oxfam, refused to rule out supporting GM technology.

'I've been on the receiving end of countries facing dramatic food shortages who ban the import of GM foods because they are adopting the precautionary principle. But then I've eaten hamburgers in the US in full knowledge that millions also have and there were no great consequences.

'Food supply is going to be an issue. GM may well be part of it. I am not going to be the one to say it definitely won't be or that it is vital but I think the world is looking at a supply and demand challenge on a whole range of issues, food is one of them and I think governments are going to have make very careful decisions about how they respond to that,' he said.

To read an extended version of the interview with Will Day, click here


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