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.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram
Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope