Ignore the BBC, Plaid Cymru still opposes Wylfa

In a story on their website that was predominantly about Plaid Cymru taking a more explicit position on independence for Wales, one particularly blatant piece of BBC misreporting stood out like a sore thumb. It said:

Earlier, a motion that would have committed Plaid to opposing the building of a replacement for the nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey was narrowly defeated by 42 votes to 41.

BBC, 10 September 2011

The vote in question was an amendment to one clause of what seems to have become an annual motion at conference. As always, it's best to look at the whole thing:

NUCLEAR ENERGY AND RENEWABLE ENERGY
(Newport Branches / European Parliamentary Group)

Conference notes:
1. The tragic consequence of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan which led to the dangerous situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, namely that fuel in the reactors produced considerable amounts of heat which led to a full meltdown, causing radioactive material to leak.
2. That the incident at Fukushima, occurring on the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, heightens concerns for the safety of nuclear energy.
3. That as a result the European Commission has proposed stress tests on all current nuclear reactors.
4. That as a result, Germany has announced that all the country’s nuclear power plants will be phased out by 2022. Switzerland has also committed to phasing out nuclear power by 2034.

Conference further notes:
1. The essential principle of energy independence given Plaid’s long term ambition for devolved sovereignty and independence.
2. That as a net exporter of energy with massive undeveloped renewable energy potential new nuclear developments are not required in Wales in the long term in order to meet energy demand.
3. That cost per KW of production for some forms of renewable power generation are lower than nuclear.
4. That the long term costs of nuclear decommissioning are not calculated.
5. The proven evidence of the effect of carbon emissions towards catastrophic climate change, also the growing pressure on fossil fuel resources including significant commodity price escalation as we approach peak fossil fuel production.
6. That the current coalition government’s policies on the carbon price floor will serve in the short term to raise consumer fuel bills and will leave the nuclear industry by the far the biggest beneficiary and also therefore fail to optimise the potential investment in renewable energy that variants of this legislation could bring.

Conference reaffirms:
1. Plaid Cymru’s belief that all energy decisions should be devolved in full to Wales.
2. Plaid Cymru’s total opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations.

Conference calls:
1. For Plaid at all levels to officially oppose new nuclear projects on the basis that even apart from the risks they are superfluous to Wales’ energy needs.
2. For Plaid at all levels to lobby the coalition Westminster government to restructure Carbon Price Floor legislation in order to exempt nuclear power from receiving any form of public funded subsidy.
3. For the EU’s nuclear stress tests to be carried out by independent experts and to be based on robust criteria.
4. On Plaid Cymru to welcome Germany’s decision to phase out all nuclear power stations and to encourage other governments across the world, including the United Kingdom, to follow their lead.
5. For greater investment by the Welsh government in renewables and energy efficiency measures.

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Amendment 1 (National Assembly Group / Ynys Môn Constituency)
Add to paragraph 2 under further notes ‘Further investment is required into developing the potential of wave and tidal technologies which when commercialised could lead to Wales becoming more self sufficient in renewable energy.’

Amendment 2 (National Assembly Group / Ynys Môn Constituency)
At the end of paragraph 2 after Conference reaffirms, add ‘if the Westminster government gives the go ahead for a new nuclear power station at Wylfa, we should make sure that the investment recognises the need to employ local people, invest in training to maximise local employment and make sure that indigenous companies benefit from supply chain opportunities.’

Amendment 3 (National Assembly Group / Ynys Môn Constituency)
Delete point 1 in the paragraph Conference calls.

Amendment 4 (Ynys Môn Constituency)
At the end of paragraph 3 under Conference notes add, ‘and the UK government has called on the Chief Nuclear Inspector to carry out a review of nuclear installations.’

Plaid Cymru Conference Handbook, 2011

For the sake of the record, all four amendments were passed, and the amended motion was then passed.

The only vote that was close was on Amendment 3, and this was the one passed by 42 to 41 after a recount. However, as everyone can see for themselves, this vote was definitely not about "committing Plaid to opposing the building of a replacement for the nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey". In fact, exactly the opposite is true, for the motion explicitly reaffirms:

Plaid Cymru's total opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations.

And, just in case Elfyn Llwyd decides to make another attempt to deny it, Amendment 2 makes it perfectly clear that conference considers any replacement nuclear station at Wylfa to be "a new nuclear power station", and that conference is therefore totally opposed to it.

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So what was the narrowly approved amendment about? The clause that was deleted was for conference to call:

For Plaid at all levels to officially oppose new nuclear projects on the basis that even apart from the risks they are superfluous to Wales’ energy needs.

I found this clause a little disturbing because of its ambiguity. It can be taken two ways: the operative words are either "at all levels to officially oppose" or "on the basis that even apart from the risks they are superfluous to Wales’ energy needs". Talking to people afterwards, it was clear to me that different people took different views as to which interpretation was uppermost in their minds when voting.

For those who took the key words as being "at all levels to officially oppose", the matter was whether certain levels of the party were able to take a stance that differed from that of the party as a whole. For them it was about whether individuals like Ieuan Wyn Jones, Dafydd Elis Thomas and Elfyn Llwyd had the right to openly oppose party policy, or indeed whether individual branches could do so. My view on that is that no party can force its members to do anything, and that these people will still stand against party policy irrespective of the motions that are passed by conference. After all, they have a track record of ignoring, and sometimes misrepresenting, conference motions on this subject.

But for others I spoke to the key words were that new nuclear power should be opposed "on the basis that even apart from the risks they are superfluous to Wales’ energy needs". For them it was not about whether Plaid Cymru is opposed to nuclear power, but why the party is opposed to it. For many people the risks of a nuclear accident (or even a deliberate attack) are the paramount reason for their opposition to nuclear power, and therefore it is irrelevant whether other sources of energy could meet our needs or not.

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But whatever might have been uppermost in the minds of delegates as they voted, we need to make it clear that the deletion of one clause in the motion has not in any way reversed conference's total opposition to any new nuclear power stations, including opposition to the proposed new nuclear power station at Wylfa.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't Plaid or Labour support a clean coal strategy for Wales?

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/12/dirty-coal-clean-future/8307/

MH said...

I can't and wouldn't want to speak for either Plaid Cymru or Labour, but my own answer is twofold:

1. No-one has yet demonstrated that "clean coal" is viable. We have small scale pilot projects which might be developed into something that can be upscaled, but not yet. It should also be noted that these consume energy, as the article you linked to mentioned. After that, we would need to find places in which to permanently store the CO2.

2. Because we can produce all the electricity we need from renewables, Wales simply does not need a clean coal strategy.

The article you linked to was interesting, but was looking at the world-wide situation rather than something that is appropriate for Wales. In the same way that I think nuclear power might be appropriate for certain countries for whom the only alternatives would release CO2 into the atmosphere, I think that clean (or cleaner) coal is better than dirty coal. I am certain that pre-combustion CCS is better than post-combustion, mostly for the sake of flexibility to respond more quickly to demand.

So I'm all in favour of developing clean coal technology for the sake of the planet as a whole, but Wales won't ever need it.

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