A week or so ago this question was brought up on Duncan’s blog. In the course of replying to the post I raised several points which I wish to develop further here. I’m going to develop them in relation to nuclear power in North West Wales, however, I hope that to an extent they can be transposed elsewhere, although important differences need to be taken into account (ie. the Sellafield reprocessing centre is obviously a different type of establishment to most nuclear plants).
In an attempt to appear ‘green’ first Blair’s labour government and now Brown’s has been driving towards a new generation of nuclear power as a solution to the ‘energy crisis’. They present it as a carbon neutral solution which needs to be adopted as existing energy sources (coal, gas, oil) are too dirty (and rely to a large extent upon ‘unreliable’ countries) and renewables (wind, tidal, wave etc.) are not developed enough get. So naturally what’s good for British capitalism is good for everyone.
But lets not forget that nuclear power gets ten times as much spent on research into it than renewables, or that nuclear gets massive subsidies. Or that nuclear power is not carbon neutral – the uranium has to be mined and transported, nuclear power stations have to be constructed etc. This isn’t to mention the health risks of radiation seeping out, the somewhat clichéd possibility of meltdown (unlikely – but given the bad safety record of the British nuclear industry, and the likelihood of a new generation of nuclear power been privately owned – it cannot be written off) and, probably most worryingly of all, that there is no known way of dealing with nuclear waste (and simply saying that we’ll somehow be able to deal with it in the future doesn’t solve the problem).
So nuclear power isn’t good and we know it. But this isn’t the whole story – nuclear power has been in existence in the UK for over 40 years, it has become embedded into local communities. Many of the places where nuclear power stations have been built are somewhat rural or isolated and thus the nuclear power plant is likely to be the main employer in the area. No matter how forceful the above arguments are, this is likely to be of far more importance.
I mean to write another piece on decommissioning nuclear power plants and nuclear waste, but for now it is sufficed to say that decommissioning tends to employ as many people as an active plant. Transfynedd is Gwynedd has been in the process of decommissioning for over 15 years now and still employs around about as many people as when it was active. This is before mentioning that maintaining renewable sources of energy would also employ some more people too. However, this level of employment is on a capitalist basis is only a beginning, on a socialist basis by reducing the working day, employment could be found for many more people.
As Socialists we need to go beyond just what any other anti-nuclear protesters say (as they do not necessarily solve peoples problems) and explain what a socialist society could do about these issues. We also need to orientate anti-nuclear campaigns to engaging in campaigning activities. Whilst Pawb (www.stop-wylfa.org.uk) is very good in terms of explaining the problems with nuclear power, it is much less good at getting ordinary people in Ynys Mon and Gwynedd involved in trying to do something to change the world around them. It is not just a question of doing something to stop this generation of nuclear power plants from being implemented, but a question of taking our destinies into our own hands so we don’t face this same battle again.