Friday, January 11, 2008

Nuclear power - the case for decomissioning New Labour

The government’s commitment to nuclear power has everything to do with servitude to the global energy companies and nothing to do with tackling climate change. New Labour has accepted a financial model which will leave the British people paying the price in every way.

The taxpayer will end up financing the decommissioning of the new stations, just as they have the existing ones. In the small print of yesterday’s government announcement it says that the energy companies will pay will pay a fixed amount and we will pick up any deficit. The bill for dismantling the current reactors is £70bn and rising, in addition to the storage costs.

In fact, plans for a new generation of reactors were only made possible by a bizarre programme of bribing communities, with taxpayers’ money, to accept nuclear waste. Just before Christmas the government announced that communities were invited to "express an interest" in hosting waste dumps, bidding for money for schemes that will “enhance their wellbeing”. Truly we are in the age of double-think. The operators of Sellafield in Cumbria are giving Copeland District Council £75m to allow them to expand the national low-level radioactive dump, but would increase that to £1bn if they accept even more dangerous high-level radioactive waste.

The new reactors can only be made attractive to investors because of the discredited European Union carbon emissions trading scheme (EU ETS), where the nuclear companies will be able to claim profitable credits. And the government promises to “keep open the option of further measures to reinforce the operation of the EU ETS in the UK should this be necessary to provide greater certainty for investors”. That means they will underpin the cost of carbon, pushing up the price of fuel overall.

As for the global impact of the rush to nuclear power, it will give fresh impetus to the most polluting form of mining. At current use levels, there is enough uranium to sustain the nuclear industry for about 70 years. But the rate of extraction, and exploration for new resources, will now be stepped up. Uranium mining poisons land and aquifers, leaving them toxic for hundreds of years. It poisons livestock, animals and humans too. Native Americans from the Black Hills in Dakota and from Canada, and native Australians are already engaged in long-term battles against the mining industry which has destroyed great swathes of their land.
Building 10 nuclear reactors would save just 8% of Britain's emissions of carbon dioxide, which need to be cut by 10 times as much as that, at the very least. The emissions that result from the building of the new power stations will be enormous. The new Climate Change Bill fails to enforce any actual reductions, allowing Industries and firms to meet soft targets through carbon trading and offsetting. So big business is extremely pleased. French nuclear giant EDF declared themselves delighted by the announcement – so they should be since they designed the financial model! They aim to have their first new reactor ready by the end of 2017.

The Tories immediately fell into line and once again the political system is being manipulated to implement a policy that enjoys no popular support. It is long overdue to decommission the current political and state system, cut the emission of New Labour lies, and opt instead for a system of safe, non-polluting, democratic power - for the wellbeing of all the people.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

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