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One of the many decisions the Government will stall until after the General Election is whether or not to extend the life of the UK’s nuclear power stations. One of the biggest, Dungeness B in Kent, is likely to close in the next two years without a decision in the next few months over the direction of UK energy policy. The survival of the nuclear industry is not dependent on its ability to remain financially viable. Far from it: British Energy, which operates half of the UK’s nuclear power plants, has just completed a £5bn government-backed rescue plan and announced losses of £234m in the six months to the end of September 2004. No, the main excuse for an expansion of nuclear power is climate change. As an environmentalist, I want to state my opposition to the nuclear option in advance, rather than apologise afterwards.
The environmental excuse is that nuclear power stations produce less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuel-powered stations, making them the best option for filling the gap between the winding down of fossil fuels and the revving up of renewables. This argument was given a boost in Channel 4’s War on Terra series in January, when Marcel Theroux checked out whether nuclear power was the answer to averting environmental catastrophe. His most choice interviewee was environmental thinker James Lovelock, who argued forcefully and passionately that nuclear power, despite its risks and costs, is a better option than carrying on with fossil fuels and the inevitably ensuing climate catastrophe. A few weeks after the programme, a poll on the environment section of Channel 4’s website showed 67 per cent in favour of the question “should we adopt nuclear power as our main source of energy?” and 33 per cent against.
While the programme’s argument was convincing (and almost convinced at least one peace campaigner with whom I”ve spoken since), its approach is akin to accepting detention without trial and an end to jury trials as useful steps in tackling terrorism: it takes a symptom in isolation without addressing the actual problem, and leads to a world that isn”t necessarily a better place in which to live.
There should be no argument that the end of the fossil fuel age is nigh. Nuclear power, however, is not a logical next step. It is still an unsafe and environmentally destructive technology. According to Greenpeace – environmentalists who have, thankfully, maintained their opposition to nuclear power – the production, transport, storage and reprocessing of highly radioactive nuclear materials causes long-term dangers to human health, the environment, and global security. And when the fossil fuels needed to build uranium mines, reactors and waste storage facilities are considered; alongside the resources used in transporting materials within the full nuclear cycle and decommissioning reactors, greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power are far from nil.
Under pressure from the US (oh yes), Tony Blair claims he has -fought long and hard & to make sure that the nuclear option is not closed off”. The possibility of a fresh round of nuclear stations has been kept open at his personal insistence. Even if the Tories formed the next government, their position is unlikely to be different: a December article on the Corporate Watch website recounted how research into renewable energy programmes which promised abundant and cheap energy from wave and tidal power was scrapped by the Conservative government in the eighties, when the projects began to threaten investment in the nuclear sector.
As George Monbiot has pointed out, the government will not spend twice on alternatives to fossil fuels: it will either invest massively in nuclear generation or invest massively in energy-saving and alternative power. The nuclear option is often referred to as a final stage – an option that isn”t taken lightly but becomes inevitable. While this is a limited argument in general it is particularly inappropriate here, for there are many actions that can be taken now to reduce emissions in an effective way. Research from the Rocky Mountain Institute, for example, has shown that seven times as much carbon can be saved through electricity efficiencies as through investing in nuclear power.
At best, the nuclear option for tackling the climate crisis is a red herring. At worst, through the way in which it drains resources, undermines environmental security and illustrates our lack of imagination when it comes to dealing with a crisis, the nuclear option is an absolute tragedy.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament