Another unacceptable cost of nuclear power

Tomorrow the Westminster Government is due to announce the next step in its plans to expand nuclear power in England and Wales. It won't do so for Scotland because Scotland, unlike Wales, can decide its energy policy for itself.

Nuclear power can only be made to happen if it receives very large subsidies—either directly, or indirectly in the form of guaranteed minimum pricing—and if the full costs of dealing with nuclear waste are not taken into account. As no workable solution has yet been found for dealing with nuclear waste, these costs cannot be adequately taken into account, by definition. Also as most of the costs of nuclear clean-up are incurred after the plants have stopped producing electricity, there is nothing to prevent private companies simply reneging on any obligation they might make now to clean up their future waste. As we've recently seen with railways (though on a far smaller scale) National Express simply walked away from a 14 year franchise to run the East Coast line because they decided they could no longer afford it. There is nothing to stop a private nuclear power producer doing exactly the same. All this government will be doing is giving private companies profits for as long as there are profits to be made, but leaving future taxpayers to bear the cost of any losses.

Over and above that, security is a large hidden element in the cost of nuclear power ... and it will be something that will only nominally be paid for by the nuclear industry itself. Ultimately we, as taxpayers, will have to pay the vast bulk of the cost for security, intelligence and, ultimately, armed force that nuclear power necessitates. Those additional costs will never appear on any balance sheet or business plan for a new nuclear power station.

     Those arguments are well known ... and will be equally well ignored
     by the current UK government. The purpose of this post is to highlight
     a higher and even more insidious cost.

I doubt that many people will have heard of the Office for Civil Nuclear Security. But this, as reported today in the Sunday Herald, is the sort of thing that it is now going to do in a bid to reduce the security risks that surround nuclear power:

Thousands of staff at UK nuclear power stations have been told to spy on the private lives of workmates and inform on colleagues who might be “vulnerable” to blackmail or bribery by terrorists intent on getting access to Britain’s nuclear secrets and stocks of weapon-grade plutonium.

As part of the “security measures” nuclear power station staff are being asked to keep a watch on their colleagues’ love lives. They are also being told to keep tabs on colleagues they think may be using illegal drugs and even those travelling abroad.

However, it gets worse:

But OCNS director, Roger Brunt, made it clear that he wanted to go further.

He says: “I would like to see all employees develop an awareness of how they can help identify and provide support for individuals holding a vetting clearance who may become vulnerable, for example, as a result of a change in personal circumstances.”

Mr Brunt pointed out that close colleagues were likely to be the first to notice any “unusual behaviour”. A system has been put in place requiring “the notification of relevant events such as a change of partner, new co-habitees, and travel overseas”.

Travelling abroad could make nuclear employees “the target of an attempt to gather intelligence”, Brunt cautioned.

If I were to ask whether this is the sort of thing people in Wales, and Ynys Môn in particular, would be prepared to tolerate, it would be a purely rhetorical question ... of course we wouldn't. Is it the business of any agency of the State—let alone an employer—whether you have just broken up with your partner, or who you are sleeping with, or where you take a holiday? This is something straight out of the old Soviet Empire.

Does this constitute unnecessary intrusion into people's lives? Dare we go so far as to call it spying? Don't be so silly, of course it isn't. As Mr Brunt said, it's

not spying but a natural caring response

This is part and parcel of what an expansion of nuclear energy will actually cost us. It is far more than money that could be better spent on less dangerous ways of producing electricity; it is far more than pollution that no-one knows how to clean up ... though both those are surely disqualifying weaknesses in themselves. Nuclear power necessitates the increasing erosion of basic rights and freedoms such as privacy. It has to because its dangers are so high.

I think it is an unacceptable cost.

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Phil S, Ynys Môn said...

I absolutely agree with all your points. Add to this the spiralling costs, the total shambles at Finland's model new-build plant, the unprecedented criticisms of new design already expressed by nuclear inspectorates across Europe, the prospect of storing waste on site at Wylfa for 100 years or more (ie spent high-burn up fuel which will be twice as radioactive as the current legacy waste), the impossibility of evacuating population from the island in the event of a disaster... I might add the grim reality of uranium mining for overseas workers and communities, which no trade unionists should ignore through self-interest. The media, the political elite and the nuclear industry do not want us to know the truth. All consultation has been a sham, and the so-called streamlining of planning is simply a democratic bypass operation. Wylfa B is no answer to global warming and no answer to a viable long-term economy in northern Anglesey. There are anti-nuclear representatives in all the main parties. It is now time for them to speak up.

Gerry Wolff said...

Yes, this and the many other costs of nuclear power are unacceptable.

The high cost of nuclear power is not as well known as it should be partly because it is disguised by subsidies, many of which are hidden from view.

The main subsidies are described in the report "Nuclear Subsidies" which may be downloaded via a link from .

Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff; well done. What I have never understood is that there is no 'Plan B', if you'll pardon the pun, for Ynys Môn. It's as though Wylfa B is a macho thing, like LBJ supporting the Vietnam war. If you even question it, you're a whimp.

The reality is that this policy has led to the disastrous closure of Anglesey Aluminium. In an energy-rich country like ours, we could have given them free power. the north-west has massive sustainable energy resources: tidal and hydro, offshore wind, geo-thermal. All these are compatible with tourism, agriculture and oodles of industries yet unborn on Môn Mam Cymru.

Yet they foist this last century technology on us. They are like generals fighting the last war.

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