Ynys Môn, nuclear power and the new China Syndrome

IssueOctober 2012
News by Phil Steele

ImageThe 'China syndrome' is a 1970s term for a catastrophic reactor meltdown into the earth's crust – 'all the way to China'. As the new Chinese bid for the proposed Wylfa B nuclear power station is considered, the phrase may bring to mind another scenario – a catastrophic meltdown of democratic accountability, because democracy and transparency are the first casualties of the drive for 'new nuclear'.

The sudden departure of the previous operators, Horizon, from the troubled project in March 2012 left Ynys Môn (Anglesey) in a strange hiatus. Shell-shocked county councillors seemed surprisingly surprised that this emperor had no clothes. Soon, of course, the nuclear PR machine creaked back into action.

The Russians would come to the rescue! 'No' said Rosatom, there are no such plans. In June, it was proclaimed that the Chinese would step forward. Perhaps China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation, in an unholy alliance with Toshiba-Westinghouse or feasibly GE Hitachi. On 7 July, it was confirmed that the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Company had bid for Horizon in association with Areva. Areva is the French firm responsible for the nuclear shambles at Flamanville in Normandy, which is running four years behind schedule and has almost doubled in cost to €6bn.

Democracy denied

Ynys Môn's nuclear hiatus and the far-from-transparent bidding process spotlights the global power of unaccountable corporations and the way in which they dominate weak and compliant governments. The nuclear industry and national or local democracy have never been easy bedfellows.

A recent report – from an independent commission set up by the Japanese parliament – confirmed that the 2011 disaster at Fukushima 1 was caused by humans, the result of a corrupt regulatory system. The relevant government agency had failed to force the provider, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), to implement recommended safety measures.

Have lessons been learned? The present Japanese government nationalised TEPCO in May 2012 and is shrugging off vehement public opposition, turning its nuclear reactors back on. Human rights are the key demands of the protesters: protection from radiation, healthcare, safety and a fair deal for those affected by the disaster. But Japanese politicians and power-providers appeared to have their fingers in their ears, blocking the public outcry. In September, though, the government bowed to public pressure, announcing the phasing out of nuclear power by 2040.

In India, ongoing grassroots protests against the new nuclear programme have focussed on the Kudankulam plant in Tamil Nadu and a huge six-reactor site planned for Jaitapur, 400km south of Mumbai. National and state governments have violated the basic tenets of democracy. There have been enforced land grabs, heedless of the local population and the environment. Indian police have fired on demonstrators and made mass arrests, while the assets of anti-nuclear groups have been frozen.

Corruption of governance

Since 2003, the push for nuclear new-build in Britain has also been rooted in deeply anti-democratic measures. A January 2012 report by Ron Bailey and Lotte Blair, for Unlock Democracy and the Association for the Conservation of Energy, found clear evidence of 'a corruption of governance'.

The information in the original national policy statement, presented to ministers and parliament, was partial and inaccurate. It was not based on the full evidence available, but was designed instead to support a predetermined political decision to build the new stations.

This was effectively one more 'dodgy dossier' dreamed up by the Blair government – matched in turn by Cameron's Tories and those nuclear renegades the Liberal Democrats, as they too ignore any awkward contrary evidence. The public 'consultations' were fake, because the false premise that 'new nuclear stations were necessary' trumped all other challenges.

On Ynys Môn, democracy was soon taking a dive too. The Council seemed to be representing not the voters but the applicants, Horizon Mark 1. The boundary between the activities of this private consortium and an elected public body became harder and harder to determine. The council held closed sessions with Horizon while doing its best to sideline and deride the opposition.

Speaking up in Wales

People Against Wylfa B (PAWB) has not been idle since the Horizon pull-out. In April, alternative energy consultant Neil Crumpton spoke for PAWB at the AGM of RWE (who were part of the Horizon Mark 1 consortium) in Essen, Germany. In May, Dr Gerry Wolff, another PAWB stalwart and a founder of Energy Fair, highlighted the folly of investing in nuclear in the financial press.

In June, Dr Carl Clowes launched an alternative economic plan for Ynys Môn identifying 2,500-3,000 alternative jobs – a positive step which attracted great interest. This debate was taken up at the Bro Morgannwg National Eisteddfod in a presentation on the Maes Gwyrdd in August.

At the Urdd Eisteddfod, PAWB chair Dylan Morgan addressed a protest organised by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg. 'Wise up, Carwyn' was the message to our first minister after his remark welcoming the potential relocation of Trident to Wales from an independent Scotland.

The Wylfa B project threatens not just our health and our safety. The only way any consortium can succeed in pushing this programme through is by riding roughshod over our civil rights.

It is our job – and surely that of the Welsh government – to defend our democracy.

Topics: Nuclear power
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