There’s a big corporate faction that desperately wants to push nuclear power forwards. They want to do this because it provides two things to them.
First, it’s a way of dealing with carbon emissions which doesn’t interfere with the interests of big business. Second, nuclear power offers a new set of opportunities for capital.
If we want to tackle carbon emissions, it would be far better to invest massively in reducing the amount of energy we use. But this is not acceptable to big business, because it entails restricted opportunities for making money.
The expansion of nuclear power, in contrast, is acceptable. So the government’s response is being driven not by what is best to cope with climate change, but by the interests of capital.
Nuclear power is very big business indeed. It will take billions of pounds of government expenditure to develop and build a new generation of nuclear power stations.
The contracts are stupendous—the amount of money that stands to be made is one of the largest of any industry you can think of.
So they will jump at any opportunity that presents itself to promote nuclear power, and the one that is presenting itself at the moment is climate change.
Carbon emissions from nuclear power stations are much smaller than conventional power, so at first sight it looks like there’s a strong case for building reactors.
But—and this is the big but—we could save seven times as much carbon dioxide if we invested those huge sums in efficient energy use rather than nuclear power.
What’s interesting is that there is no chance of a new nuclear programme without massive government funding. The liabilities and decommissioning costs are far too high for the private sector.
So the nuclear lobby is begging for several billion pounds of government expenditure which should be spent on a massive energy reduction programme to tackle climate change. Having said that, I don’t think investing in a new nuclear programme is a done deal yet. Some Labour ministers have been pushing it, but others have been resisting—they recognise it would be extremely unpopular with the public.
I don’t think it’s by any means too late to stop this rush to nuclear power. There’s everything left to fight for.
As to the wider issue of tackling climate change, the government has no more intention of meeting its targets for carbon dioxide emissions than I have of becoming a Catholic priest.
Labour has been missing its emission reduction targets already, saying, “We’ll catch up later.” It’s one of these things that can be endlessly deferred.
The current administration knows the political cost of ignoring climate change is minimal, while the cost of actually doing something about it is very high—they would have to take on big business.
That’s why it is critical that people who are concerned about climate change start mobilising on a massive scale to push the government into meeting its promises and turning them into real action.
The G8 summit in Scotland this July is a very good opportunity for us. Blair has said one of the two main themes of the summit will be climate change—the other will be ending world poverty.
But these two issues are linked. Climate change will impact on the world food supply, hitting the poorest first and hardest.
If we don’t sort it out we can kiss goodbye to any chance of ending global poverty or reducing inequality.
I’ll be speaking about climate change at the G8 Alternatives counter-summit in Edinburgh on 2 July. It’s an issue of vital importance and we have to mobilise a movement around it.