Are UK attachments to nuclear power at least partly a military romance?

Major long-run global energy trends are raising serious questions about the persistent intensity of UK Government attachments to civil nuclear power. In particular, queries emerge in the UK as elsewhere about the role of military nuclear interests. With hitherto undeclared dependencies between civil and military nuclear programmes increasingly openly discussed elsewhere, defence policy documents in the UK offercrucial substantive evidence. In short, it is evident that capabilities to build and operate nuclear propelled submarines depend to a large extent on the ability of nuclear skills infrastructures and supply chains that are largely funded by second and third tier civil nuclear contracts. Figures from the National Audit Office suggest the magnitude of the associated effective subsidy from UK electricity consumers to military nuclear interests amounts in respect of only one of six currently proposed civil nuclear projects, to many tens of billions of pounds – or around 6% of average electricity bills. Resulting issues are attended to abroad, but remain virtually entirely undiscussed either in UK energy policy or wider national media debates. The issues that are raised therefore transcend energy and military policy, to raise further grave questions about health of British democracy.


Andy Stirling is a professor in SPRU and co-directs the STEPS Centre at the University of Sussex. With a background in astrophysics, archaeology and social anthropology he is a transdisciplinary researcher on the politics of science and technology. A fellow of the UK Academy of Social Science, he’s served on several UK and EU policy advisory committees and the International Panelon Social Progress.

Phil Johnstone is a Research Fellow at the Science Policy Research unit (SPRU). Phil completed his PhD in Geography at Exeter. He is a member of the Sussex Energy Group (SEG) and has been involved in research on a number of topics including nuclear power policy, disruptive innovation in the energy sector, green industrial policy, and the role of war and the military in sociotechnical change.

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