Nuclear Nonsense, or To Hell in a Handcart

IssueMay 2009
News by Phil Steele

A new report from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) details a chronic culture of neglect at nuclear decommissioning sites across the UK. This includes the Wylfa A station on the north coast of Ynys Môn (Anglesey). This culture of neglect does not inspire confidence in the new push for nuclear power.

As I write, the government’s e-auction, for the sale of land on which nuclear new-build is planned, is already under way. Included in this land grab is the site for a new Wylfa B power station. In March a public exhibition by energy company RWE npower in the village of Cemaes, near Wylfa, produced a surprisingly large police presence – in the face of a trickle of chiefly elderly local residents – but precious little enlightenment.

The energy company’s promises, reiterated at this exhibition, to communicate with the public ring hollow: e-mails to the project manager, Alan Smith, go unanswered.

The county council and the island’s pro-nuclear politicians, as well as the local press, are taken in by the most fanciful job projections from the pro-nuclear lobby. They refuse to engage with the public’s genuine concerns over any other issues, including health, safety, security, evacuation procedures, radioactive waste, and the global question of nuclear material proliferation.

Local resistance to this folly is coordinated by People Against Wylfa B (PAWB). In Welsh the acronym PAWB means “everyone”. PAWB are busy building bridges with opposition networks in France, Ireland, England and elsewhere.

Hugh Richards of the Welsh Anti-Nuclear Alliance has produced a remarkable series of scientific papers on the question of new-generation waste, which is far more radioactive than the “legacy” waste of the current reactor generation. He has been in detailed discussions with the Welsh Assembly government, to whom Westminster has denied decision-making on this issue.

Are we downhearted? Yes and no. The most remarkable aspect of government policy is that despite all its faked consultations and its “streamlining” of the planning process (ie by-passing local democracy), it seems woefully unprepared for its pet project.

The wider economics of nuclear power are rapidly unravelling too. The nuclear industry’s showcase project, Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, is a catalogue of overspend, inefficiency, and bitter recrimination. The French nuclear giant Areva is apparently on the verge of bankruptcy.

American nuclear scientists warn that the intemperate dash for new nuclear could mean short-cutting procedures. That could well lead to a disaster on the scale of Chernobyl or Three-Mile Island.

In an economic depression, investment in the massively expensive nuclear industry is uncertain to say the least. The nuclear renaissance may yet prove to be stillborn, but what a scandalous and tragic diversion of investment from renewables, the real technology of the future, is already taking place.

Topics: Nuclear power
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