Renationalise British Energy

BLAIR’S GOVERNMENT is to give Britain’s largest electricity generator, the struggling nuclear power company British Energy (BE) an emergency loan of £410 million to save it from immediate collapse.

Capitalist ‘entrepreneurs’ picked up the electrical power industry for next to nothing. BE bosses are now telling their 5,000-plus workers that they could face the dole queues.

Nuclear power is so expensive that this privatised company, providing one-fifth of all Britain’s electricity needs from its nuclear reactors, cannot make big enough profits.

Nuclear power is also very unsafe, causing dangerous levels of radioactive waste. The costs of maintaining safety – and of decommissioning spent plants – have pushed the price of nuclear power way above that of gas.

Shares slumped yet further on the London Stock Exchange after problems at their plant in Torness in Scotland and at Heysham in Lancashire which could cost £25 million to fix.

The administrators of bankrupt US energy producer Enron were creditors of British Energy. Power purchase agreements from Enron’s plant in Teesside which meant BE paid 80% above the prevailing price have left BE with massive liabilities.

This shambolic situation is typical of the madness of privatisation. BE were threatening that failure to bale them out would mean there was too little productive capacity. Firms could then push the price of electricity sky high as Enron did in California’s energy crisis before it went bankrupt.

British Energy bosses and shareholders have made huge profits since the firm was privatised and shareholders were paid a £50 million dividend only a few months ago. Now the pro-free market New Labour government is baling out the firm, though Labour says it’s only a ‘temporary measure’.

The pro-privatisation government say they’ve ruled out renationalisation. But bringing BE and all the other electricity and gas multinational companies back into public ownership under the democratic control of the working class – both workers and consumers – is the only logical solution.

Without it, how many more times would BE come begging for cash to keep a private firm in state-subsidised existence? We say compensation should only be paid on the basis of proved need – these bosses should not get a penny.

A socialist plan of production would also give an opportunity to solve the problems of producing energy with the minimum of greenhouse gases. Failure to act on renewable energy was one of many dismal failures of the recent Earth Summit after the oil companies and Bush government intervened.

We say: use the skills of the workers in the nuclear industry to close down and make safe the power plants. Then pump investment into new, publicly owned renewable energy sources to provide jobs and clean energy for the future.

The main things standing in the way of this are private companies like BE and privatisation-loving governments like Blair’s.