SERA Executive member Lydia Meryll argues that the case for new nuclear does not stack up.
The Labour Party continues to endorse a line that energy sourcing is merely a balance of risks – financial risks. Both Japan and past and present UK governments seem determined to plough ahead with contracts where the risk to shareholders of one large multinational – Electricite de France or TEPCO – is reduced so much that they ignore the serious fears and objections of many the public about safety and security, now and for thousands of years to come. The UK proposed “Contracts for difference” are only a subsidy by another name. Agreeing to underwrite a strike price for the next 40 years would look to most marketers as a gift not to be ignored. The tax payer and the consumer will all pick up the debts later, when the current decision makers are long gone – they hope.
They are now talking about having “Fair” subsidies and assure us that all providers of energy, including renewables, will have the benefit of an agreed strike price. Announcing Ed Davey’s decision to allow EDF to build new nuclear power stations at Hinkley in Somerset, the Guardian reports, “Under electricity “market reforms”, lowcarbon power such as nuclear reactors and offshore windfarms will have long-term contracts with a guaranteed price for their electricity, to give investors certainty to invest in projects with high capital costs.” (1) So shareholders in EDF will be pleased then!
How does this go down with competition laws across Europe? Do the financial risks outweigh the risk of accident or attack or decay of long term waste stores? It does make sense to collaborate on nuclear technology, for the sake of increasing safety, but the current players, including EDF, have been instructed NOT to reveal commercially sensitive information about design. So not anybody can come in and fix your leaking power station in 30 year’s time. It will still have to belong to EDF. No take-overs or mergers! How does this encourage us to think that the power companies will stay with an agreed financial framework and not simply drive up the price to consumers and tax payers as they discover that the “Fund” supposed to be set aside now for decommissioning in 50 – 60 years’ time has just withered away? Does the financial modelling of risk include the impact of severe weather events such as flooding, even if we are not quite so prone to earthquakes as the Japanese islands? Who is accountable?
“Environmentalists” are being depicted as irresponsible and naïve. Small children watching CBeebies are being told in reassuring tones, addressed to their mothers and subliminally to them too, that there HAS to be “Nuclear in the mix”. But the people of Cumbria have just voted with a huge majority NOT to host the repository for the EXISTING nuclear waste and the Audit Committee has exposed inefficiencies at Sellafield where so much of the current waste stock is stored (including over 100 tonnes of Plutonium!). This is of even greater concern to local residents as they are at risk NOW from leaking canisters and derailed trains from Scotland. Not to mention the risk of rising sea levels as the planet warms up.
Political alliances have been formed to create a lobby to support nuclear at any price! Climate change is now no longer seen as just rhetoric, but real. CO2 reduction is rightly recognised as the main priority, and not just for DECC (most of whose budget goes on paying the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to take apart 52 old nuclear power stations and make safe the irradiated materials). The promise of re-cycling the plutonium as mixed oxide fuel foundered when the Thorpe experiment was abandoned. So we are now all downwind of a stash of supremely dangerous radioactive material. Is it waiting maybe to turn into war heads? Our arms industry seems to be being given more free marketing by our current prime minister. Does the Labour Party really sanction all this?
It is well known that nuclear power is not “carbon-free”, if we take the whole life cycle of electricity production into account. A recent World Future Council Foundation document quotes a Global Emission Model for Integrated Systems (GEMIS) database of the German Oko-Institute as showing that a 1 GW nuclear power reactor plant in Germany causes indirect emissions of 200,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, comparable to hydropower, lower than photovoltaic and higher than for wind-generated electricity or improved efficiency of electricity generation and use.(2)
In Japan the argument continues: “The lesson from the (Fukushima) nuclear crisis is clear, nuclear power generation is a technology that is extremely difficult to control, especially in this quake-prone country. More than 150,000 Fukushima residents still cannot return to their homes due to radiation risks. It is deplorable that Mr. Abe (the new Prime Minister) does not appear to take the Fukushima nuclear disaster seriously.”(3) Abe will re-establish nuclear generation again in July this year.
SERA has always drawn attention to the environmental radioactivity risks associated with nuclear power. We have spoken out at every AGM and with our colleague elected members. In Manchester and other cities, the Nuclear Free Local Authorities network is encouraging energetic programmes of public education and behaviour change to seek out genuinely renewable and local ways of providing power to our industries and reducing electricity USE. Indeed, there is a challenge to the assumption of continued desirability of Growth, with Steady State Economics lobbyists taking a thoughtful look at the impact on developing world populations of our obsession with speed, our profligate use of fossil fuels, over- consumption and waste.(4)
The ethical arguments against creating short term gain – doubtful electricity generation NOW- for long term danger, seem irrefutable. Intergenerational responsibilities are vital for all political parties to re-consider. Alternative investment in renewables, and incentive schemes for reducing electricity use, radically reducing CO2 emissions, has to be top of the list of policy-making priorities.
It is vital at this moment in policy development within the Labour Party that we stop and think again immediately about energy and nuclear energy in particular. The feint of Hinkley may still be challenged. There remain EU competition laws, health and safety considerations and public opinion to deal with…
1. . Guardian 19th March 2013, Hinkley nuclear power plant expected to get go-ahead
2. Kalinowski 2009 in Scheffran “Climate Change, Nuclear Risks and Nuclear Disarmament” 2012
3. Editorial – Japan Times – Kowtowing to the Power Companies 13
Lydia Meryll is an Executive Member of SERA and an active member of SERA Greater Manchester. She serves on the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Stakeholder Group.