Who’s Doing Wrong at Hinkley? Theo debates George

While I was in the protest occupation at Hinkley Point, George Monbiot emailed me to suggest that I stop resisting new nuclear, saying that it was “the wrong thing to do”.  This is my response.  His original email is at the end.

Hi George, and thank you for taking the time to write. I appreciate your commitment to getting our energy policy right and to bringing your friends along with you. For the benefit of others I have included your email to me at the end of mine.

I was unable to receive and then easily respond to your mail after you sent it on Feb 21st as I was living at the Hinkley occupation camp, then preparing for a High Court case, and then dealing with the eviction and it’s aftermath. However, I think this is a welcome opportunity to contrast our positions around nuclear new-build, so I am writing now.

It’s ironic that you wrote to me about my involvement in our Somerset campaign against the proposed Hinkley C at a time when we were trying so hard to raise national media awareness. Normally you would have been my journalist of choice for amplifying the story, as it has a lot of the elements you might have liked to get your teeth into: little people vs. big business; corruption of the planning process to favour corporate interests; democratic decisions prejudiced and mis-directed by government officials; lack of accountability and transparency; flagrant disregard for processes which protect our natural heritage; media monopolisation, and of course, bribery.

But I didn’t think you would want to champion this particular case because the outcome of the whole sorry process is set to be… a new nuclear power station! And since you have already decided, ahead of ongoing public consultation and the IPC examination now in progress, that Hinkley C must be built, any efforts to challenge or interrupt that process must therefore be “the wrong thing”.

I can give you the benefit of the doubt and guess that you aren’t aware of the detailed issues here on the ground. Your legitimate pre-occupation with cutting CO2 emissions – which is in itself welcome – has led to the exclusion of other important concerns from your thinking about a new-nuclear future. The process in West Somerset has now brought those real-life concerns into sharp relief.

Interestingly, some of the best and most supportive people who passed through our brief occupation camp were not anti-nuclear per se, and a few of them had been persuaded by your recent arguments. But they were people who value the democratic safeguards which limit corporate land-grabbing and environmental destruction in Britain – safeguards which the new planning process has now fatally undermined. From their point of view, what is happening at Hinkley is a test-bed for the whole “fast-track” planning regime and what it could mean for projects in other parts of Britain – road-builds, runways or any other project favoured by a government that justifies new-nuclear by its commitment to reducing carbon emissions (!)

I don’t want to pretend I hadn’t already come down on the side of the antis when I joined the occupation. After some re-evaluation in the light of yours and Mark’s recent articles, I had. Beguiling as your recent contributions about re-assessing danger levels, possible new designs for nuclear reactors or the need for strong regulation of the industry have been, experience on the ground in Stogursey Parish has only confirmed my suspicion as to what a “nuclear renaissance” will look like in reality.

After a lengthy pre-application process, the IPC has just embarked on its final 6-month examination of the EDF application to build 2 new reactors at Hinkley point. After this period of hearings and written evidence, the panel of commissioners will make a recommendation and a secretary of state will make the final decision. Regardless of your own preference for nuclear, I assume you accept that for this process to be meaningful it must include the possibility that EDF’s application will be rejected. If not, then you would have to accept that we now live in a planning dictatorship and that the whole IPC process is in fact a charade at public expense. But if we assume that the consultation is genuine, then clearly by any normal standards of fairness and objectivity it would be wrong for major construction to commence before the permission has been granted.

But bizarrely that is exactly what has happened here in West Somerset. In the next month or so, apparently with a special licence to clear ground during the nesting season, EDF’s contractors will commence the erasure of 400 acres of West Somerset coastland, including the habitats of red-list species, skylark breeding grounds, bat roosts and the little stand of West Quantocks oak woodland, not to mention a place of much archaeological interest and recreational amenity. All this will be demolished, felled, stripped and levelled before EDF have obtained planning permission to build.

It’s an unprecedented decision – and a terrifying precedent. First, get a National Policy statement in favour of your construction project – this means you can then rule out all further discussion about the project’s technology, its impact on future generations, it’s toxicity and safety, and whether we even need it. Even the people whose district it is going to be in may not consider these matters once it is a National Policy.

Next, slice up your planning application into smaller bits. Apply to the District Council to start the earthworks – since it isn’t structural it doesn’t need to go to the IPC, and since the project before the IPC will be in line with National Policy anyway, you can probably assume it will get the go ahead and rip up those TPOs now. This has the advantage that the environmental impact will be irrelevant by the time they make their recommendation: it will have already happened. Rare habitats? – What rare habitats? The other advantage is that by the time it gets to the secretary of state the site in question will have been reduced to a series of bare platforms, ramps, pits and trenches – it will seem almost bloody-minded not to grant EDF permission to finish the job. Of course, there is a very real chance that they will pull out – as Eon and Npower have just done – for financial reasons (or even because of a change of government in the French elections). They may well pull out after the worst damage has been done.

So in the case of Hinkley C you’ll end up either with an expensive and carbon intensive trashed building site, or with 2 new nuclear reactors being installed, and a new pile of radioactive waste being prepared, without any consideration having been given to either the ecological impact of the construction or to the health and safety impacts of the process itself on local communities. As you yourself prophesied in a piece about the government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework last year “it will be almost impossible to resist development, however destructive or detrimental it might be….everything will be permitted unless there is a powerful reason why it should not be, and the powerful reasons have been ruled out in advance”. (Terra Nullius 5/7/11)

The powerful reasons in this case were presented by a host of conservation, heritage and ecological bodies, parish councils and local residents. None of them believed for a minute that the damage could ever be ameliorated or repaired once the preparatory work had been done. EDF’s pledges to do just that if the project falls through were described as “ludicrous”. (Exactly how this restoration will be achieved is something that EDF have promised to work out later, once they have got the destruction under way). Nonetheless, most District Councillors decided to bow to the stick of National Policy, follow the carrot of local job creation and handouts, and turn a blind eye to the skylarks.

The happy compliance of the West Somerset population with this development is an EDF myth however. The most common description I’ve heard of the process locally is “steam-roller”. Most people I met in local villages while we camped there agreed with the argument we put – that either EDF’s preparatory works are an obscene act of negligence, or the entire planning process is now a sham whose outcome is, as they say in Stogursey “a done deal”.

But if you want to build a nuclear power station, best build it where they’ve already got used to it. West Somerset is a community adapted by 40 years of experience to life in the shadow of a toxic industry, resigned to it’s council-issued Potassium Iodide tablets, trying to make the best of a bad job. It’s also a community where the dominance of the public space by EDF and the atom industry is so total it has the appearance of a company town. Several local rags would collapse if they now had to stop being EDF free-sheets. Locals are compromised, not only by the desperate fears over jobs – which of course could be provided for in many other ways too – but also by their dependency on EDF handouts, which are really a kind of corporate social bribe.

One man told us he would like to come up to our camp, but he daren’t be seen supporting us as he was a governor of a school set to receive several grand from the developer. In this way, cuts in the social budget lay the way open for a corporation to become an indispensable benefactor to a community. The people of Stogursey are left cowed, muted and confused. “Don’t tell anyone else in the village I was here” says the woman who brings us a generator to charge batteries. I tell her that’s what they all say. They secretly wish us well, but they’ve given up. The best they can hope for is the little concessions they can wring out of EDF. Rumours of corruption and manipulation abound, but no one wants to go public.

It’s that strange atmosphere of fear and paranoia that always seems to hover around the nuclear industry. It hovers around the faceless, box-ticking, bullying EDF as well. Of course, as you pointed out in your piece “Corporate Power? No Thanks!” last July, and as I discovered at the Vestas wind turbine factory occupation – and even in dispute with the BBC – heartless manipulation is a quality shared by most corporations. Although you candidly admitted that “… In most parts of the world the nuclear operators remain secretive, unaccountable and far too close to government” you went on to conclude that “There is no contradiction between favouring the machines and opposing the machinations”.

But I think you miss an essential point about the nuclear machine here: it’s not just its history as “a by-product of nuclear weapons research” that has left it with a few old creases we need to iron out. Its guardedness arises implicitly from the technology itself. Because it is a prime target for terror, a prime source for lethal military material, and so potentially hazardous that all activity around it must be tightly and carefully controlled, it is a process that demands impenetrable security, armed policing and authorised-only access. The paradox is that, as one of the most uniquely toxic industrial processes we have ever developed, the greater good requires that there is total public scrutiny of its affairs – but the world is not safe enough for that, so we must rely on unaccountable self-regulation instead.

Now give a manipulative, greedy corporation a financial interest in that process and watch what happens. Here is EDF being handed a prime piece of our natural heritage on an NPS plate; here is David Cameron’s office cajoling District Councillors to pressure a recalcitrant land-owner into selling her land: here is the County evacuations officer, the aptly named Mr Hurry, visiting our camp to hand out EDF corporate calendars with the Potassium Iodide tablets; and here are the legal papers served on our camp with evidence supplied to EDF by the District Council Press Officer. (Oh yes, and here are EDF extending their Licensed Nuclear Site boundary without permission from the ONR, just so they can deter protesters). I think before you demand solemnly, (but to be honest irrelevantly in terms of the influence you wield), that “A new generation of nuclear power stations should be built only with unprecedented scrutiny and transparency” (ibid) you need to take a reality check. It’s not happening here in Somerset. Our nuclear furnaces are being built and will be administered by a suited snake-tongued gang of legal weasels who even the Somerset and Avon Constabulary have come to despise. But that’s ok; they’ll have their own police force won’t they? – The Civil Nuclear Constabulary, soon to be merged with the MOD police. “It is through such collusion that accidents happen”. You said it.

But it’s not just through collusion. Accidents happen anyway. They just do. I’d love you to have a head to head with a technical expert like the retired high-ranking Hinkley B engineer who came to our camp. From a far deeper knowledge base than mine or yours he’d explain the shortcomings of the EPR design, and tell you how contractors driven by deadlines and financial pressures inevitably build mistakes into complex systems. Actually you could chat with any ex-workers, from this or any other large hazardous industrial process, and get all the hair-raising insights you need into the inevitable foibles of human behaviour, compounded by the capitalist bottom line, which make some processes just too risky to pursue.

I see that Mark (Lynas) has been using the term “green luddite” about people like me – a compliment I am not worthy to bear having never risked either a soldiers bullets, state execution or life-exile as they did for their cause. But this is an appropriate time to recall the words of one such Ludd, 200 years ago this year, that we must “put down all machinery injurious to the commonality”. We don’t need to pick nuclear up. We know it is one of the most hazardous industrial processes we have yet stumbled upon and that the waste product will remain hazardous into future generations. Just the imposed and non-negotiable responsibility for looking after that nuclear fire once we’ve lit it will be injurious to them. So also, on an emotional level I think, will be the knowledge that their ancestors just couldn’t be arsed to get more creative with meeting our energy needs than leaving them to pick up the tab. In the meantime we have to hope that it won’t turn out “injurious” to us.

I do understand of course that, in the light of it’s climate changing effect, releasing CO2 through burning fossil fuels is “injurious to the commonality” on another scale altogether. I have campaigned for 2 decades on cutting emissions. But if it turned out that asbestos dust had a temperature decreasing quality I still wouldn’t favour spraying it in the air. Other elements haven’t suddenly become less toxic to humans because of climate change. There is a constant pressure in capitalism for lowering toxicity thresholds, which makes the current green revisionism promoted by people like Mark very welcome in some quarters. But we should defend lines drawn in public and environmental safety as gains in our evolution towards a rational society. In my opinion, the boundaries drawn around my behaviour by the duty of care and the precautionary principle that stems from it are in line with the biological interests of my species and with maintaining the integrity of the biosphere. In other words they are as inviolable as the 9 planetary boundaries identified by the Stockholm Resilience Centre (and used by Mark in “The God Species” as the springboard for his own reactionary ideas). That means I have to create ways to live within them and still thrive. That means, like it or lump it, I’m going to have to do it without nuclear.

As far as I can tell, you don’t think that’s impossible, but you have given up hope that it’s feasible or likely in the time-frame you believe is necessary. That has put you in the contradictory position of on the one hand decrying the existing “monstrous pile of nuclear waste” (Nuclear vs nuclear vs nuclear, 2/2/12) and on the other calling on me to stop opposing the Hinkley C development so that they can make another monstrous pile of fresh hot waste which will need to be stored undisturbed on the edge of the sea for several centuries at least.

You have explained several times now that you favour the deployment of new nuclear reactors which you believe could consume the existing waste legacy as fuel. Some people question the feasibility of this technology and I don’t know enough to comment on it, but I would encourage you to continue this line of research, as a supportable method for dealing with our toxic legacy is still needed.

But good or bad, this is not the technology on offer at Hinkley C. What we are opposing here is the same old waste pile, the same old lengthy and expensive decommissioning, the same old secrecy and state collusion, the same old “off site emergency” hazard, and potentially the same old thyroid cancer for my daughter, 25 miles away. It only looks different because it has been re-invigorated by the fear of climate-change, modern propaganda techniques, the ageing of the anti-nuclear generation, and the lack of any democratic platform for opposing specific plans on the ground.

It has also been aided by environmental authors like yourself whose public promotions of nuclear have disorientated and disheartened the green movement and the left, while finding a willing audience among the broader middle-class who welcome a chance to salve their guilt about energy-intensive lifestyles with the re-assuring news that “apparently nuclear’s ok now, and it’s the only way to solve climate change”.

I know that isn’t the pure message you wanted to convey. But what we write, just like the technology we devise, has a political and social context which determines how it will be used and by whom. You advocate an “energy mix”, (as do the energy investors with broad portfolios), which in Britain includes 10 new nuclear power stations. You believe that if we don’t take that course then the money will go into carbon burning, not a renewables revolution, energy efficiencies, reduction of waste and false needs and a massive investment in R&D for alternative energy production. But that’s a political decision.

The renewables revolution route is one which had growing social traction after COP15 and still does, even in the hostile environment of public spending cuts and a triumphalist nuclear lobby. If we do not choose nuclear AND we drive rigourously to meet carbon reduction targets, that will simply apply more pressure on the renewables sector and other innovators to deliver. Partly this can be market-driven, and the diversity of the sector makes brilliant creative innovations far more likely than they are in the monolithic nuclear industry. But it will only be possible with massive public investment and direction, and that raises the unavoidable issue of who is controlling the wealth and resources.

At COP15 I concluded that capitalism (yes Mark, I’m an unashamed anti-capitalist!) could not respond effectively to the challenge of climate change, because it’s primary motive will always be profit and competitive advantage, even where planetary well-being is concerned. At the very least, a large degree of state intervention and socialised initiatives are needed, and this in turn requires a big degree of political control being exerted over capital, which may or may not be possible. It’s that uncertainty which is the difficult bit. I don’t think that you believe we can find the political will or the social base for a meaningful green revolution to occur in time to reduce UK emissions by other means than re-embracing nuclear. I also think that you have forgotten that you yourself are a subjective factor in determining the political landscape, as am I. What is necessary is to encourage and empower a left democratic social movement which is steeped in ecological understanding. Your current commitment to nuclear in Britain cuts across that agenda, and to paraphrase your email to me, potentially undoes all your other good work.

Each time you write something like “I don’t like nuclear power, but…” it sounds like defeatism. It sounds like you have decided it’s better to run with a toxic solution that doesn’t challenge the existing social order than to wait for a social movement with real political power to develop. I can really understand that perspective. My dad reluctantly held it at the end of his life even though he spent the eighties resisting Hinkley C.

But I think it’s wrong. In order to get through our evolutionary crisis in any meaningful way, we need optimistic, life-affirming, movement-building messages right now. We need more than ever to champion a vision of the kind of creativity which a democratic revolution would rapidly liberate. Nuclear entrenches power firmly in the hands of a state-protected, unaccountable and ruthless elite of technocrats and power-brokers, at a time when the urge of young humanity is towards transparency, openness and democracy. It can give no ultimate assurance of it’s safety or it’s costs. Neither can it demonstrate the kind of long-term resilience which may prove necessary if runaway climate change does, in spite of our efforts, develop. Resilience is to my mind something which we should be designing into our energy production plans now, as the future is so uncertain for our children. Nuclear requires a stable and continuous technocratic society to exist for centuries.

I imagine that when you contemplate runaway climate change – running so rapidly towards us – your feelings are similar to that dreaded nuclear terror which haunted so many people in the early eighties. That fight forged many of our political identities, and ended with a false dawn of hope that the nuclear genie was being backed back into it’s bottle – that nuclear weapons would diminish and we were turning our backs on the toxic technology of the nuclear furnace for good.

So you can’t really be surprised – or even dismayed – that so many people respond emotively to your propagandising for nuclear. From their point of view you seem to have become a one-man pro-bono PR Company! In the letter you just co-authored to Cameron you suggest that nuclear would be a lot cheaper and better by now if Porrit and FOE etc hadn’t “devoted decades” to fighting it. Well they did. Lots of people did. Personally I’m proud of it, even if I regret that our political naivety, coupled with the defeat of working-class representation in that decade, meant that capitalism and it’s appetites continued unabated. If we had moved in a more rational direction back then, renewables and other energy options could also have been a lot further developed by now, and the fabled “energy gap”, which you say we need nuclear to fill, might look a lot smaller.

We are currently, on this issue, political opponents, and it pains me. While preparing for our eviction from Langborough Barn by EDF bailiffs I heard you on the radio discussing the London Occupy eviction which had happened the night before. As I would expect of you, you were championing the spirit of liberty, egality, and fraternity, and explaining the need for grass-roots democracy to hold the elites of capital to account. I’m afraid this position cannot honestly co-exist with your apparent support for the EDF, the IPC and the National Policy frameworks of the Tory coalition.

When Cameron did his good-news-for-growth photo-op with Sarkozy he announced, with all the vote-rigging confidence of a third world dictator, that “Hinkley C will be built”. In a Guardian piece celebrating the deal, Mark mentioned “a small number of “environmentalist” protesters (eight at the last count)” at Hinkley, of which I was one. His inverted commas around the word environmentalist were bizarre, but telling. Defending the land and it’s biodiverse inhabitants against major destruction arising from flagrant abuses of the planning system is still the work of earthbound environmentalists, as I’m sure you agree. I expect you to support me in that work, and to condemn the current travesty of a democratic process which is unfolding in West Somerset. I also hope that you will draw a clearer public line between the reactor technology you support and the kind which will leave yet more hazardous waste for our respective children, and their children, and their children, to take care of. The latter is what we are being promised in West Somerset, and I will continue to do all in my power to prevent it, until I have either demonstrably failed in the attempt, or been persuaded otherwise.

When you have the time I’d be very interested to hear your response to my thoughts. I have cced this mail to others in the movement who I think may find our discussion interesting.

Love and best wishes, Theo

From: George Monbiot 

Sent: 21 February 2012 07:56
Subject: Hinkley Campaign

Dear Theo,

I hope you are all thriving. I’m writing because I saw that you have been campaigning to prevent a replacement for the nuclear power station at Hinkley, and I think that is the wrong thing to do.

It is true that we could replace all current power generation with renewables. But it would take longer and cost more than if we were to sustain nuclear power as part of the mix. As you know, we are already on the margins of possibility of avoiding more than two degrees of global warming. Replacing coal and gas in time to prevent runaway warming is a tough enough challenge for any country. Doing so at the same time as replacing nuclear power is nigh-on impossible. I hope you are aware of the dire news from Germany, in terms of the massive contribution to emissions the shutdown will make, despite Germany’s efforts at efficiency and new investment in renewables: if not, you can follow the links in the article I’ve appended below. Now we see a similar disaster emerging in Japan, as it switches from this low-carbon option to coal and LNG: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/20/energy-japan-mof-idUSL4E8DK02G20120220

I admit that none of our options for generating electricity are good ones. I don’t like nuclear power, and I would be happier if we could do without it, but I know that if we shut down the UK’s nuclear plants and don’t replace them, the gap will almost certainly be filled by coal and gas, greatly increasing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact it is quite likely to be filled by shale gas.

Yes, we could and should cut total energy use. But should we cut it in order to help get rid of fossil fuels, or cut it to help get rid of nuclear power? We certainly can’t do both by these means.

Faced with a choice between the two options, there is not a shadow of doubt in my mind that fossil fuel is the worst. I don’t need to spell out to you the impacts of climate change, or of coal extraction, or of the local pollution associated with coal and to a lesser extent gas burning. Beside these the potential impacts of nuclear power are tiny. Coal kills more people when it goes right than nuclear power does when it goes wrong. In fact coal kills more people every week than nuclear power has in the entire history of its deployment.

The uncomfortable fact is that the opponents of nuclear power (among whom I numbered until recently) have justified their position with levels of bullshit and junk science very similar to those used by the climate change deniers, and Stop Hinkley is no exception. When I wrote to Katy Attwater, expressing my concerns about the quality of the scientific evidence on their site, she told me “I have no faith in the Scientific peer review process as it currently works.” Just like James Delingpole, David Bellamy etc when it comes to climate science. I’ve attached our correspondence for you to see. I have to say it made my heart sink.

Theo, we need you too much for the battles that need to be fought. God knows there are enough of them. But the inevitable result of this one, if it succeeds, will be to raise our greenhouse gas emissions, help threaten life on earth and compromise the life chances both of future generations and of people living now in countries poorer than our own. That is not what you or any of us began campaigning for. But as the results of both the German and Japanese experiments demonstrate, it’s now clear that this will be the legacy of anti-nuclear campaigning. Please think again before you counteract all the good work you’ve done on other issues.

With love from George

22 Responses to “Who’s Doing Wrong at Hinkley? Theo debates George”

  1. Hesitate to be the first to comment. It seems bizarre to line up a row of Nuclear powerstations close to sealevel. Hmmn where have I seen that before ? And with fracking it seems even England is not immune to earthquakes. It may reduce opposition to place these timebombs together, but it is a very unsound principle.

    It is also typical of this government to crush any dissent from supporting corporate greed, I’ve heard several politicians saying “I’m unashamedly pro-nuclear”, one of these proudly said his best friend is chief exec of EDF” The system is rotten to the core, and it is not just Nuclear power stations that will be built over the heads of the common man.

    Getting the average person to act to use less energy, and to recognise the impact of the energy choices is really hard, perhaps only price will focus their attention. The price of nuclear is not in my view worth the risks, and it will breed complacency, and focus funds away from the urgent need to use renewables.

    I’m with Theo, and understand George. Due process cannot be allowed to be so systematically undermined. If true renewables had a more realistic fraction of the money that is pumped into the carbon based and nuclear industries (or the costs that Taxpayers will undoubtedly face for cleanup in 50-100 years if we survive), then progress would be real.

    It can be made to work. In Scandanavia they have been seriously pursuing use of renewable resources for decades, community owned, with district heating and power solutions that benefit the communities they serve, not some overseas capital owners.

    I’m putting my energy into developing community benefit renewable and insulation schemes. We need warriors of the pen, and those with energy and conviction to phyisically stand up to the unholy alliance of corporations and government. We need you both.

  2. emma bateman Says:

    I read the report on the rise in coal and LNG imports which George classed as a “disaster emerging in Japan”. It seems to me that it all too easy to focus on one aspect of the report – the rise in the volume of LNG, and ignore the other points made in the article; that imports of crude oil are going down, that the government is asking power utilities to encourage users to reduce peak hour demand, and the fact that even though the power supply could fall 7 percent below demand,
    “ trade minister Yukio Edano has said safety takes precedence over reactor restarts and that even if all the reactors are shut there is a good chance the nation can cope without forcing mandatory cuts on large users of the kind that were imposed last summer”
    It would appear Japan is taking the issue of how to continue to function whilst using less electricity seriously – isn’t that what our government we should be doing here?
    It is difficult to make comparisons between the deaths of people from coal mining and from nuclear power. The statement
    “Coal kills more people when it goes right than nuclear power does when it goes wrong. In fact coal kills more people every week than nuclear power has in the entire history of its deployment.”
    Is very dramatic but its accuracy depends on knowing how many deaths arise from nuclear power when it goes wrong. Studies from Chernobyl put the number of deaths at anywhere from a few hundred to almost a million. The point is we don’t really know how many people have died already from the results of nuclear power or how many are yet to die prematurely as a result of the nuclear accidents that have already happened. After Chernobyl, neural tube birth defects rose in Turkey and chromosomal aberrations rose across parts of Europe. I cannot say that this is definitely a result of Chernobyl, but neither can it be said that it is definitely not a result of Chernobyl.
    Their are, of course, deaths from nuclear power when it goes right- uranium mining is a dirty business and there is plenty of evidence to show that it causes cancer and pollutes the land, as the poor people opposing the uranium mines in India are finding out.
    George monbiot may wish to dismiss these studies as being junk science and bullshit, but bullshit and junk science exist equally in the pro nuclear lobby. How many times have we heard that nuclear is CO2 free – conveniently dismissing CO2 emissions from mining, decommissioning etc, or that nuclear is reliable- Hinkley and Sizewell both underwent unplanned outages in the past couple of months, and these are likely to become more frequent as the life of these old power stations is extended.
    The figures used to compare CO2 emissions from different generating technologies are similarly flawed. Many of the studies are based on the figures from the vattenfall report, a report that has itself been criticised. I prefer to go with the 2005 study by stormsmith, which reported that carbon dioxide emissions from nuclear power plants per kilowatt hour could range from 20% to 120% of those for natural gas-fired power stations depending on the availability of high grade ores.
    The biggest bit of pro nuclear bullshit in my opinion has to be the continual focus on the question of “how are we going to keep the light on?”, which is used to justify nuclear. The question that is so rarely asked is “how many light do we need?” Where did the government get the figures about how much energy we are going to need in the future from? As “a corruption of governance?” , an excellent bullshit free report by unlock democracy and ACE showed recently, The National Policy Statement on Energy proposing new nuclear power stations, which was prepared for Ministers and presented to Parliament for MPs to vote on
    “did not present the full information to MPs … this is not the purpose of the NPSs” (DECC official)
    The government has still not shown where it got the figures from that it used to justify the need for nuclear power.

  3. Stephen Lunn, Oxford Says:

    Theo says that ‘Nuclear requires a stable and continuous technocratic society to exist for centuries’. Millennia, more like. And not just a few – hundreds of them. Far longer than human beings in their current anatomies have existed. So for far longer than under any realistic assumptions such a society will exist. The nuclear industry guarantees a toxic legacy that will outlast our species. Whatever arguments people might make from expediency, that must be the wrong thing to do.

  4. Tim Pizey Says:

    Delighted to see the point made, which I have not seen elsewhere, that in addition to the immediate and future biohazard the danger of nuclear power is the political structures it requires.

  5. […] about the new planning regulations which give the green-light to indiscriminate development, then please read this blog by Theo Simon in debate with George Monbiot. It raises lots of important issues not least how corporations and developers are using the new […]

  6. Thanks Theo for a cogent and insightful response to George Monbiot’s comments. I have blogged and tweeted about this to broaden the conversation. As part of the wider debate about the insidious new planning laws in the UK, I think perhaps an NGO should be founded called ‘Planning Watch’ where concerned citizens can post information about proposed developments and social networks could be used to initiate petitions against the developments if they’re deemed not to be in the interests of communities and the earth. (38 Degrees and Avaaz have shown that this does work.) That is, of course, assuming that the government’s proposed crackdown on social media doesn’t deter people from speaking their truth.

    • We have started an organisation in Scotland called Planning Democracy. Its not quite your Planning Watch, but our aim is to promote better public engagement in the planning system, because we believe in transparency, democracy and openness in the planning system. See http://www.planningdemocracy.org.uk

      We have identified 6 aspects of a fair and inclusive planning system in Scotland:

      1. a culture of active democracy where policy priorities and planning decisions can be debated on equal terms.
      2. a just planning process where inequalities are challenged, including access to various resources and power, and where wider social and environmental interests are balanced with local interests, not private gain.
      3. an open planning system that builds public trust through transparent accountable decision-making with a clear indication of how people’s input has been taken into account.
      4. an empowered public with the skills, experience and knowledge to participate in a decision-making process.
      5. an accountable planning process in which there is an affordable and speedy system of redress.
      6. a planning system where power and influence flows both from the top-down and bottom-up where development is ‘plan-lead’ but people can challenge the principle of developments supported in national policy.

      Support us or tweet us or perhaps join forces for a UK wide organisation.

  7. Neil Goodwin Says:

    Thanks Theo.

    I simply didn’t have the energy or time to write what you have just written, what with fighting a number of environmental and social campaigns here in South Africa, not least 6 nuclear power stations.

    The trouble with George is that he thinks that his opinion can actually save the planet, when you and I know full well, that only UNITY, SUSTAINABILITY, and RESPECT for our fellow Earthlings and the Envionment upon which we all depend can do that. Three essential ingredients that are actually undermined by the nuclear industry, and by Monbiot’s human-centric turn-coatism.

    To me, Monbiot’s price for human survival is just too high, and I think shows extreme arrogance towards the future. If Unity, Sustainability and Respect don’t sway it, then I’d rather go down as an evolved being knowing full well that I kept the FAITH to the end and did my best, than as someone who chose the easy route and sold out, helping to bury a deadly legacy for whatever species manages to inherit the Earth – a hundred thousand years or so from now. Yeah George, that crap attitude (the main issue here I think) needs to go, and if we need to go with it – then so be it!

    Good luck with Hinkley Point Theo.

    Cheers and go well.

    Neil

    Wanstonia Vive!

    • Is this comment above by Neil Goodwin a parody/troll, or is this level of misanthropy accepted in this comment section? Scary.

      • Some people told me I might’ve overread this comment from Neil Goodwin, to me it sounds like he’s saying he’d rather see humanity gone than change his faith. Theo, I’d be happy if you choose to not accept my comments for moderation. Thank you for your blog, I am more in agreement with Monbiot but am reading your thoughts with interest.

      • Thanks Skagedal. I’d appreciate your response to the second round (Somebody else’s problem”.

      • I pretty much accept every kind of comment, and I try and understand where people are coming from. I don’t really believe there’s an us and them. But i probably won’t tolerate stuff that’s way off topic or oppressive. I do think you may have over-reacted to Neil, although I understand why you saw it as misanthropic…

      • neil goodwin Says:

        I am certainly not a troll. As for misanthropist? I have a hatred for arrogant and destructive human behaviour, not all people.. But I would rather that our species died out than have it take down all bio-diversity and life with it. Scary? Certainly, but not reached over night I can assure you, and not as scary as the full consequences of global eco-cide. I have researched a 2000 year old timeline detailing the year-by-year human destruction of this planet and everything on it, should you wish to see it. Now, that is scary! It shows the human race consistently making the wrong decisions.. like this present nuclear threat.

  8. I’m glad that George Monbiot has addressed the issue in this way, since it’s prompted this chilling, illuminating, rational and necessary piece of writing: thank you, Theo. The Guardian should run it, I think.

  9. Sue Bennett Says:

    Brilliant, Theo!!!

  10. Great article Theo, huge issues raised and conveyed with clarity. I’m looking forward to George’s response.

  11. Great article Theo, conveying with clarity, a huge range of inter-related issues that deserve urgent attention and discussion. I’m looking forward to George’s response.

  12. Chris Blundell Says:

    I have been puzzling over this and you have summed up the gist of what I feel. I think especially that the future is a big field and is beyond the realm of the political tussle which aims to take centre stage. I think that a continuance, (or in perspective a resumption) of our historical reliance on energy from a solar source gives us a necessary limit on what we should use, this is a healthy state of affairs and better not undermined by fission or fusion! Fossil fuel ultimately of course must be used less and less, hopefully by conscious choice, but certainly by it’s increasing costs and the increasing scarcity of fossil fuels. I think also that it is naive to expect increasing nuclear output to stop the oil industry from doing the only thing they presently know how to do – maximise lucrative oil production. In the question of what we are looking towards in the future I believe your thoughts come across a like beacon Theo. Thank you.

  13. Steven Haris Says:

    It is nice to postulate about renewables and come up with phrases such as “We need more than ever to champion a vision of the kind of creativity which a democratic revolution would rapidly liberate.” But the reality is that serious development of ideas requires investment and that usually means capitalist investment. Britain is so heavily in debt now that we can forget about Government investment in any wonder technologies. If only the people who are protesting would put their effort into finding a viable alternative to nuclear and fossil fuels then perhaps we could make real progress.

    • Thanks Steven. My particular skill-set is in songwriting, not engineering. But i have great confidence in the existing expertise of workers in the renewables sector, and I believe that viable alternative energy plans already exist – what is lacking is the political leadership to champion and implement them. Capitalist investment for nuclear is looking distinctly shaky right now, particularly in the light of comments from GDF boss Gérard Mestrallet that his NuGen consortium wants more financial concessions to build atomic plants in Britain, (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/apr/16/gdf-suez-nuclear-reservations-gerard-mestrallet?INTCMP=SRCH ). On the other hand there is a significant growth in the renewables sector.
      But as I made clear in my email, I don’t think we can leave these crucial collective decisions to the vagaries of “the market”. That is why I think this is a social and political issue which raises the question of who controls the money. There is enough wealth in the world to meet these challenges, but it is in the hands of private investors and shareholders. That has to change, and our fight for renewables over nuclear is also a fight for genuine social democracy over corporate dictatorship.

      • Sue Bennett Says:

        Very succinctly put, if I may say so.
        An example in my adult life: I saw a display of photo voltaics at the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth in 1977. The technology was new and very expensive. However, 35 years later, thanks to our renewable energy industry, and the Chinese, who are manufacturing and installing this clever technology as though there is no tomorrow, the costs have, at last,dropped enormously. Recently I have been able to afford to install two units of panels on a south-facing roof on our small farm, thus reducing our carbon footprint as well as our electricity bills, and, I am grateful to Ed Milliband, who, when he was Environment Minister, took up the challenge of promoting renewable energy by setting up the Feed in Tariff. This was developed in Germany to encourage ordinary people to invest in solar energy and other renewables. Germany now is able to export solar electricity to France and, through the underwater cable to the U.K.!
        Who said renewable energy can’t provide?!

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