Socialist Worker

Bad reaction—the hazard of saving nuclear

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2638

Experts survey the damage at the Fukushima plant in Japan

Experts survey the damage at the Fukushima plant in Japan (Pic: IAEA Imagebank/Flickr)


The future of nuclear energy is Britain is under intense discussion after two proposed nuclear ­reactors were scrapped.

After months of speculation, multinational Hitachi announced last Thursday it was not going ahead with plants in North Wales and Gloucestershire.

It follows a similar move by Toshiba, which decided in November it wouldn’t build a nuclear power station in Cumbria.

Hinkley Point, being built in Somerset, is the only new nuclear plant under ­construction.

And although Britain currently has eight nuclear energy plants operating, all but one of these will be decommissioned by 2030.

Dangerous

The Tories claim that without new plants Britain is facing an “energy crisis”.

But nuclear is a hugely dangerous option, and an energy supply based around nuclear power puts millions of lives at risk. Reactors went into ­meltdown at the ­Fukushima plant in Japan in 2011 after a tsunami.

Lives were lost because private nuclear operator Tepco failed to plan properly for disaster or react quickly enough when it struck.

And building the plants is left to private firms, and the unpredictability of financial markets. Hitachi backed off from building plants because of “economic rationality”.

This means energy and people’s lives are decided by a handful of millionaires in boardrooms.

Theresa May’s ­government promised to underwrite £6 billion worth of loans to get the Wyfla project in North Wales off the ground.

It’s not just the Tories who are keen on going nuclear, Labour’s 2017 manifesto committed the party to new reactors.

That’s why shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said Hitachi’s withdrawal amounted to a “full-blown crisis”.

And Justin Bowden, GMB union national secretary for energy, said the announcement was a “tragic farce”.

Bowden claimed it would “leave the country at risk of power cuts or reliant on imported electricity, much of it from unreliable regimes”.

Unions say new nuclear plants would create jobs—an estimated 9,000 ­workers would have been needed to build Wyfla.

But once opened, only a fraction of these would have permanent jobs.

Nuclear power is not the “clean energy” lobbyists like to pretend.

Mining raw materials, ­constructing infrastructure, creating energy and eventually decommissioning plants produces carbon emissions at every stage of the process.

Dumping

It creates huge volumes of radioactive waste. EDF, which is building Hinckley Point, is dumping 300,000 tonnes of potentially ­harmful sediment from the construction site off the shore of ­Cardiff Bay.

So if nuclear power is expensive, wasteful and hugely dangerous, why are the Tories so keen to press ahead with new plants?

It’s partly because of the close relationship between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

Nuclear energy involves a process that turns uranium into plutonium, which is then used to make deadly weapons.

The British state wants to maintain its ability to ­manufacture nuclear weapons and ultimately continue to replace the Trident nuclear weapons programme.

We don’t need to rely on nuclear power to create enough energy—or jobs.

For the sake of the climate, it’s essential that there is a systematic shift towards harnessing wind, solar and wave power and away from fossil fuels.

There would need to be huge levels of infrastructure, similar to the huge ­project to build nuclear power ­stations.

That means the entire working class movement, including the Labour Party and trade unions, need to throw themselves behind the fight for a nuclear-free future.


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