Nuclear and workers' power

Submitted by Matthew on 18 May, 2011 - 12:11

Les Hearn’s article on nuclear power (Solidarity 3/203) seems to be based mainly on the arguments being put forward by George Monbiot and Mark Lynas.

Though he lists the objections to nuclear power, he doesn’t even attempt to answer many of them, and on the issue of waste disposal, plant safety and cost, he fails to see the reality of nuclear power within the context of a global capitalist economy.

Critically, he also fails to question the projected “energy gap” which is being used to justify nuclear power expansion. And he doesn’t ask what is the best way forward for energy in the interests of the working class.

Capitalism is immensely wasteful of the fossil fuel energy. Insulation and energy conservation could slash by a third our current consumption in Britain. Vast amounts are burned globally to power totally unnecessary production for manufactured consumerist needs, in order to generate private profit. And how many jobs could be created in the insulation and conservation industries, premises conversion, public transport expansion etc. that energy efficiency demands?

People in the rest of the world will have a growing energy need over the next decades, but while they need and have a right to expect more, we in the western capitalist world could use a lot less with no drop in social well-being.

Monbiot and Lynas are ultra-aware of the urgent need to cut CO2 emissions. This is why the desperate measure of proliferating a hazardous technology seems necessary and acceptable. But it betrays a class attitude which is not acceptable for socialists. It concentrates more power and wealth, with massive public subsidies, into the hands — and behind the fences of — corporations with an appalling track-record. Nuclear power demands high security and centralised control, and in the present world that means an inherent lack of transparency and democratic accountability which are essential where hazardous industries are concerned.

Monbiot and Lynas play fast and loose with the safety of working people in their calculations — one nuclear accident has the potential to destroy the lives of hundreds if not thousands of workers and working-class communities — even if as it appears some radiation dangers have been miscalculated in the past.

Les says Fukushima “would have been virtually problem-free had a fail-safe cooling system been installed — as should and could have happened”. Ah, yes — if only capitalism hadn’t cut corners and disregarded safety, it would have been virtually (only virtually?) problem-free!

Les doesn’t deal with the proliferation argument at all. But you can’t advocate nuclear power expansion in one country without it being for all countries, however unstable or tyrannical they are.

If Les is so confident that designers can improve nuclear design, why not have the same faith in workers in the renewables sector to devise better ways of harnessing the sun’s power directly and indirectly?

We need to come forward with a strong and uncompromising socialist programme for energy and cutting emissions, not give any more energy to this divisive and hazardous distraction.

This is abridged version, the full article is at

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