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ConDemned to a nuclear nightmare

When Japan and Germany decided to halt nuclear power dependency in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, some hoped it was a turning point. But the deal with French and Chinese corporations announced today marks an abrupt end to the dream that nuclear power might be phased out.

Instead, vast amounts of taxpayers’ money is to be handed to French and Chinese state-owned corporations to build a new power station in Somerset and be guaranteed a minimum price for the power it will generate in ten years time.  

Hinkley Point will become the first new nuclear plant in Europe since Fukushima. That plant continues to leak massively to this day and was the second worst nuclear accident after Chernobyl in 1986. Then, radioactive fallout equivalent to 20 Hiroshima bombs damaged the health of countless people in northern Europe and continues to blight their lives.

The price agreed for power generation at Hinkley is at double the current market rate. This means that the companies are guaranteed longer-term revenues of around £80bn, according to some calculations. A scandal, or what?

The government has agreed to provide some £10bn guarantees to build the power station, thus subsidising nuclear energy at a higher rate than renewables – which are becoming more and more economic.

EDF, which is almost entirely owned by the French state, took over British Energy in 2008-9 and now operates 15 nuclear reactors in the UK. Nuclear expansion received a huge boost after the Blair governments enthusiastically endorsed it.

New Labour’s enthusiasm was matched a few years later by that of former anti-nuclear campaigner George Monbiot, who experienced a strange conversion in 2011 after Fukushima, when he declared himself pro-nuclear and made a vicious attack on the highly respected, Dr Helen Caldicott.

Despite the fact that the nuclear industry is so dangerously accident-prone, the companies chosen by Osborne and his ConDem clique are most obviously the least transparent and least responsible organisations to run such a dangerous industry.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that EDF and CGN will be any less negligent or open to scrutiny than the companies which built and supplied the nuclear reactors behind the Fukushima disaster.

Quite the opposite. Earlier this year, EDF pursued anti-fracking campaigners No Dash For Gas for £5m. EDF dropped its lawsuit eventually but only after the protesters agreed to a permanent injunction against entering EDF sites.

Less well-known is no doubt the fact that the head and deputy head of EDF’s nuclear security operation were jailed for three years each by a French Court in 2011. They had spied on Greenpeace and hacked into the organisation’s computer systems.

Any misdoings by the Chinese state-owned CGN will be virtually untraceable or accountable. Greenpeace campaigner in Hong Kong, Prentice Koo, warns that "Their [Chinese nuclear operators] track record is really bad and that they never give reasons for nuclear accidents.” He told the BBC’s China reporter that "The nuclear industry in China enjoys such a privileged position that they have to pay only very limited sums in compensation if there is any major incident."

Going nuclear at vast expense is a desperate act by a country without a sustainable energy strategy

Thus, EDF and its Chinese partners will profit handsomely but are most unlikely to be responsible for any accidents or clean-up. So, cheap power generation, safety, transparency, accountability? You have to be joking. Going nuclear at vast expense is a desperate act by a country without a sustainable energy strategy. It won’t even help to keep the lights on as it's a decade away. Consumers will pay through the nose and no doubt be asked to foot the eventual bill for storing radioactive waste.

Energy minister Michael Fallon is hailing the process as a “nuclear renaissance”. Actually, it’s more like an expensive nuclear nightmare the ConDems are holding out before us.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
21 October 2013

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