Hitachi has shelved plans for a new nuclear plant at Wylfa, Wales, months after Toshiba scrapped plans in Moorside, Cumbria, and Horizon suspended work at Oldbury, Gloucestershire. These withdrawals by three private Japanese corporations leave gaps in the UK government’s already bad climate and energy strategy.
Many old reactors are due to retire through the 2020s, and coal-fired power stations are due to be phased out by 2025. These new nuclear plants were due to fill the energy gap while contributing to the UK’s (insufficient) climate goals.
Recent analysis from the Committee on Climate Change, the government’s official advisors, shows that the UK could meet all these goals at low cost without any new nuclear beyond the Hinkley Point C plant now being constructed. But we should aim higher: the UK should as rapidly as possible move towards a zero carbon economy with an integrated and internationalist energy strategy. To do this the energy sector should be nationalised, with as much investment necessary to bring about this transition, funded through expropriating the wealth of the rich.
This requires funding for schemes to reduce energy consumption, such as through insulating houses. It also requires major investment in green energy sources, and energy storage systems.
After the Fukushima disaster, Germany committed to ending nuclear power. It has significantly increased the proportion of energy from renewable sources. It has also significantly increased the proportion from coal-fired power stations, many of which burn a particularly polluting form of “brown coal”. The UK should not follow similar approaches, either consciously or through letting the balance be decided by “market forces”.
The government currently supports an expansion of gas power, including from fracking. Nuclear may have a part to play in the alternative. It is a green form of “baseload” power, and is nowadays relatively safe, especially compared to fossil fuel power stations.
Many on the left oppose nuclear power due to links – sometimes real – with nuclear weapons. We should of course oppose nuclear weapons, but nuclear power stations need not and should not have any such links. A socialist strategy for energy generation would be worker-led and consider a range of factors: greenhouse gas emissions, energy output with a range of demands and weather conditions, retraining of workers into comparable jobs, availability of resources for similar transitions internationally, cost, and more. It may be that nuclear is not most useful in the UK — the exact balance of sources shouldn’t be pre¬determined. As far as we can see now, though, probably some of the shelved nuclear schemes should be continued, but nationalised.