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Friday, June 23, 2006

  • 12:47 PM
Blair goes nuclear

RECENTLY, PRIME minister Tony Blair told CBI dinner guests that he backed building a new generation of nuclear power stations, saying nuclear power was "back on the agenda with a vengeance". In doing so, Blair pre-empted the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) report on UK energy requirements, expected in July.

But Blair's headlong rush for nuclear should come as no surprise. Even though Labour's 2005 election manifesto gave no commitment for expanding nuclear energy, big business nuclear lobbyists were knocking at the door of Number 10.

Figures released by the Electoral Commission has shown that as soon as the DTI review was announced "money from nuclear interests flooded in" (The Independent, 27 May 2006) to Labour's coffers.

Among the donors was a lobbying firm for British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) who gave £19,500. The BNFL privately owned consortium operates eight of the 16 nuclear power plants which are due to close by 2010. Other donors include EDF Energy which operates 58 reactors in Europe, and US nuclear company Fluor.

These companies are licking their lips at winning a juicy contract for new nuclear stations. Ten new nuclear plants alone would be worth £20 billion in contracts.

Blair and his big business pals justify replacing Britain's nuclear energy plants on the grounds of meeting the government's commitments for curbing 'greenhouse gas' emissions and reducing dependency on imported fossil fuels.

But nuclear power doesn't really represent a 'greener' option. Even a doubling of existing nuclear capacity would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8%. However, a Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution says carbon dioxide (CO2) levels must be reduced 60% by 2050. The government's own target of a 20% CO2 cut by 2010 was quietly dropped after the CBI bosses argued that such measures would affect industry's "competitiveness," ie their profits!

Moreover, nuclear power is potentially dangerous. (It's particularly ironic that Blair has opted for nuclear power on the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.) And there is still no safe means of disposing of toxic radioactive waste.

Hidden costs
Also, the cost of nuclear power vis-ˆ-vis renewable energy sources is prohibitively expensive.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) says existing estimates underestimate real costs by a factor of three. NEF says these estimates don't allow for the cost of building novel technologies and expensive delays in construction. For example Dungeness B power station, which took 23 years to complete instead of five, cost 400% above the predicted estimates!

Moreover, big business wants the public to pick up the huge tab for insurance and decommissioning. Decommissioning the Dounreay reactor alone will cost £3 billion over 30 years.

Existing investment in renewables such as wind and wave power, solar energy and geo-thermal energy is a tiny fraction of the amount invested by governments and big business in nuclear and fossil fuels energy.

Likewise, in the USA, George Bush's 2005 Energy Bill gave $14.5 billion for energy measures. But the bulk of this money went to provide tax breaks and loans for new nuclear plants and to oil and gas companies, with only 7% to renewables and energy conservation.

Capitalism is a profit-driven system which enriches a minority of individuals at the expense of the majority. Under this system, energy supply, industrial production and agribusiness is not sustainable. It is a system that cannot meet human needs without wrecking the environment.

Only socialism, by ending the anarchy of the profit system, can democratically plan economies to meet human needs on a sustainable basis.
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