Archive article from The Socialist Issue 441
What we think
Say no to nuclear power
TONY BLAIR pre-empted his own government's energy review, and announced to his big- business friends in the CBI that he intends to replace Britain's nuclear power stations with new ones.
His declaration forms part of a reversed international trend. With people's consciousness fading on the worst nuclear accidents, like that of Three Mile Island in 1979 in the US and Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, 16 governments have presently got proposals to build 107 new civil reactors. They include the US, which has not built a new nuclear plant for over 30 years.
Their primary motive is to help satisfy their own industrial and service energy needs, in a world where fossil fuels are a finite resource with fluctuating prices and huge supply instability due to world economic and political turmoil.
The UK became a net energy importer two years ago, so UK big business now fears its vulnerability to the chaotic world energy market. This is especially so following Russia's gas dispute with the Ukraine which temporarily disrupted supply to the rest of Europe.
As well as the passage of time since Chernobyl, pro-nuclear government propaganda is helped considerably by people's concern over global warming, as nuclear energy produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than do fossil fuels.
The need to reduce the contribution to global warming played by fossil fuels is indisputable. Research is showing that it is also extremely urgent. For instance, a recent study reported that a record area of the Arctic Ocean failed to freeze during the winter just passed.
However, the government-initiated Sustainable Development Commission, that opposes new nuclear stations, has calculated that even if existing nuclear capacity is replaced and doubled, then the resulting reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would only be 8%. This is very low, considering that climate change scientists estimate a reduction of 80% is necessary!
But in any case, there is no level of emissions reduction that would justify new nuclear stations, because nuclear power - in its present form of nuclear fission - is a massive environmental hazard. The statistical chance of accidents may be small, but when they do occur, minor incidents can be very serious and major ones devastating to humans and the environment. The radiation from Chernobyl spread thousands of miles and has an effect spanning generations. As nuclear energy has been privatised in Britain, this increases the chances of accidents, as nuclear bosses will be tempted to cut corners to maximise their profits.
Then there is the huge problem of dangerous nuclear waste. This is transported and stored above ground at 34 locations in Britain at present and there is no known way of making it safe for the thousands of years it will remain highly reactive. There is also the possibility of terrorists attacking a nuclear installation or obtaining and using nuclear material. Nuclear substances have gone missing in many countries.
What is necessary, is not continued use of nuclear power, but the rapid development of safe, renewable energy sources, such as wind, waves and the sun. While these are being developed, there is also great scope for energy efficiency measures and new technologies such as carbon capture and storage technologies, if resources are applied to them.
Renewable energy production was once largely dismissed by the top capitalist scientists and politicians, but today is regarded as a contributing energy source. Even Blair's government intends to increase power generation from renewable sources to 20% of total energy used.
It is also true that much of the capitalist media is unsure on the nuclear option. Some commentators rightly point out that the true cost of nuclear power is deliberately masked and that there is increasing evidence that renewable sources are cheaper as well as much safer.
However, under capitalism, energy policy will never be developed to meet the needs of the majority of people in society and a sustainable environment, but will be primarily to satisfy the needs of big business and private profit.
Margaret Thatcher ran down the coal industry to counter the miners' power as a highly organised workforce, and today Blair makes decisions to satisfy his friends in the nuclear industry and the relatively short-term sights and interests of British capitalism as a whole.
Socialists have to demand the closing down of nuclear plants and a massive programme of investment into renewable energy resources and the safest ways of disposing of nuclear plant and waste.
We demand that no workers in the nuclear industry are made redundant or given new jobs on worse pay and conditions. There will be plenty of work needed on the decommissioning of plants and on alternative energy generation.
It is also essential that all the energy industries are taken into public ownership, so that an integrated energy programme can be created to provide cheap and safe energy for all. This needs to be part of a democratic and socialist plan of production that can satisfy the needs of everyone today, as well as safeguarding the planet for future generations.
Big business - big polluters
WHO ARE the main producers of the most common climate-changing greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide?
The guardian recently published a 'league table' showing that just five companies in Britain produce more carbon dioxide pollution than all the motorists on British roads put together.
EON UK, the electricity giant that owns Powergen, is Britain's biggest corporate producer of greenhouse gases. It produced 26.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide last year - making it more polluting than the whole of Croatia.
The top five companies (EON UK, RWE Npower, Drax, Corus, and EDF) produced between them over 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2005. On average, Britain's 26 million private cars produce 91 million tonnes each year.
A 1% increase in the efficiency of the giant Drax power station in Yorkshire - the largest in Europe and the biggest single polluting site in Britain - would save the typical carbon emissions of 21,000 average households. Drax produced 20.8m tonnes of carbon dioxide last year
All the efforts by individuals and households to cut their carbon production will make little difference, says the survey, unless accompanied by greater action by industry.
Unfortunately, Britain's capitalist industry will ignore this demand for action.
The multinationals' main motive is short-term profit-making rather than protecting the environment or the health and welfare of ordinary people. They tell governments that they won't cut into their profits for measures to deal with excessive environmental damage.
In order to get 'green' policies on polluting gases, socialists say that you need 'red' policies based on taking industry out of the hands of profit-obsessed capitalism.
A socialist society could democratically plan and implement, consistently and for a long period, the measures required to cut down and ultimately eliminate the greenhouse gases, starting with investing seriously in renewable energy sources, such as wind, wave and solar power.