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New Labour's nuclear nightmare

Nothing shows more clearly that capitalism has reached a dead end in its historical development than the plans for nuclear and coal announced this week by New Labour energy secretary Ed Miliband.

Nuclear power is the embodiment of the reckless nature of capitalism; the fact that it is the state that is imposing this development on society shows the extent to which democracy is dead.

The 10 sites for new nuclear power stations are at Braystones, Sellafield and Kirksanton, all in Cumbria, Heysham in Lancashire, Hartlepool, Co Durham, Sizewell in Suffolk, Bradwell in Essex, Hinkley Point in Somerset, Oldbury in Gloucestershire and Wylfa in Anglesey. Dungeness in Kent was ruled out because of fears of rising sea levels.

To prevent any opposition – which Miliband describes as a “barrier” to progress – new planning laws prevent people affected by these developments from using any remnant of democracy to halt them. The Infrastructure Planning Commission has been given the power to take applications from power company developers and make decisions within a year.

To class nuclear as a “clean” technology is simply madness. The government is no further forward on making plans to deal with the radioactive waste product because there is no safe way of storing it. Their only plan is to bribe some local authority to agree to offer deep storage. The area around Sellafield – already devastated economically by that development – is a prime candidate. The cost to the taxpayer will be in the billions.

Nor is nuclear energy renewable. Miliband claims his plans will deliver “energy security”, yet there is no fissile material in the UK – it must all be imported. And as the rest of the capitalist world also turns to nuclear, uranium wars may join the oil wars.

Miliband’s claim that new nuclear power stations will be built without public subsidy is quite simply a lie. Building a nuclear power station is beyond the means of an energy company and corporations are already pressuring the government to offer subsidies, suggesting a carbon tax that could cost the average household more than £200 extra per year.

Subsidies are already on offer to companies who fit carbon capture and storage to coal-fired stations, and that will cost the average household between £11 and £15 from 2020. Apparently, the hand-outs are not enough and overall, private sector investment in the energy sector has collapsed as a result of the recession.

The world's energy systems will need an extra $10.5 trillion (£6.3trn) in investment between now and 2030 to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and avoid "irreparable damage to the planet", the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates.

Sounds massive? But even in a no-change scenario, energy across the world will require $26 trillion investment from now until 2030 to meet growing energy demands in the developing world.

Why not ensure that this investment is in renewables? According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, current renewable energy technology could reduce emissions to pre 2000 levels while making a profit on at least 50% of implemented technologies.

But the problem is that the kind of investment required does not in any way fit the fast buck model which brought the financial sector to its knees last year, and which is now once again picking up speed. And that is the only investment model that 21st century capitalism has to offer.

The giant energy corporations are not looking to invest in reducing global warming – and nor are crisis-hit governments. All they can do is to go on offering subsidies of our money to ruthless corporations. What Miliband is proposing is peanuts compared to the billions of dollars annually in tax breaks and other funding that the US government gives the oil corporations.

Only by revolutionising the energy sector and placing it in democratically-controlled public ownership, can we bring about the transformation needed. Then we can start reducing carbon emissions and find ways to deliver clean, safe, affordable energy for all.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
12 November 2009

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