by Phil Ward
From Socialist Resistance, October 2007
October 10 sees the end of a public “consultation” to “help the government take a decision on the future of nuclear power in the UK”. The exercise is completely cynical. In February the government was found in court to have prejudged the issue, having held a previous consultation, described by the judge as “seriously flawed, misleading and unfair.” They were forced to launch a new, longer consultation, which has now been boycotted by Greenpeace, CND, WWF, Friends of the Earth and the Green Alliance on the grounds that it also was biased in favor of nuclear power.
The consultations were all carried out on the same day, September 8, when 1000 selected people went through a 207-page document, The Future of Nuclear Power, in nine public meetings organized by a specially commissioned polling organization. Unsurprisingly, they came out 45 per cent in favor of nuclear power, with 23 per cent against. The consultation, which people can also take part in on the web, does not present alternative plans if nuclear power is not accepted.
New Labour has by default committed itself to nuclear power in any case, due to its inability to cut back on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the face of global warming. They are setting up a situation where the argument for nuclear power will appear unanswerable in the face of climate change, when in fact their main interest is making sure that energy supplies are “secure” – the other theme of the consultations.
It now seems likely that the government will not be content just to give private companies the option of building new nuclear power stations, but will seek methods to “incentivize” them. High prices in the oil and carbon emissions markets will also make the technology more attractive to the capitalists.
In the USA, two new power stations have been applied for, the first application for 30 years, with government guarantees against loan defaults, and Italy has just broken its post-Chernobyl moratorium into nuclear research.
One thing to recognize is that many environmentalists’ arguments against nuclear power are weak. When weak arguments are refuted, they expose their proponents to ridicule and some of the stronger arguments get ignored.
Defeated proponents of such ideas can become sudden “converts” as well. An example of this is Patrick Moore, a leader of Greenpeace up to the late 80s, who accuses his former comrades of “abandoning science and logic, in favor of emotion and sensationalism,” who wrote in The Independent – “Nuclear Energy? Yes, please…”
George Monbiot has also pointed out how many in the environment movement basically distort the facts on this issue. While some claim nuclear power emits more carbon dioxide than fossil fuel power stations, Monbiot understands that the emissions are just 2-4% of coal and gas (taking into account construction, fuel enrichment, decommissioning and waste disposal). He shows that, for example, the estimate in The Ecologist that building a nuclear power station uses 14 million tonnes of concrete is 130 times too large.
Monbiot points out that the argument that there is not sufficient uranium does not hold water either: this is an economic argument that depends on energy prices. In the earth’s crust, uranium and thorium, which is also fissile (and is used in India) are both more abundant than tungsten, used in tens of billions of light bulbs. He also admits that “an accident like Chernobyl could not take place in a new nuclear power station” and he is probably right: technologies mature and people learn from previous mistakes. After all, capitalists do not want to lose such expensive pieces of kit (workers are another matter).
Environmentalist arguments that nuclear waste disposal has not been solved, are valid, as Monbiot acknowledges, but in fact the main case against nuclear power is economic and political, not technical.
For countries that already have nuclear weapons, these are that the ruling class wants to ensure that it maintains tight control over its electricity generating system. A system with a cowed workforce under quasi-military occupation is used as a means of political control.
Secondly, maintaining the interests of a large energy sector is more important than energy conservation. The moves to look (again) at the Severn barrage are part of the same kind of thinking.
“Energy security” is vital for the ruling class, as the dependence of the capitalist system (and us as well) on reliable electricity supply has never been greater. This was shown in the June floods in Yorkshire, when the possibility of the inundation of a substation that served the whole of Sheffield caused panic behind the scenes amongst emergency planners, while the public were kept in the dark.
Perhaps it’s useful to wonder where the government’s priorities lie as you walk down your local high street, passing the chain stores with massive open entrances and heaters above blasting hot air straight into the street. Maybe there should be a “consultation” about that?