Saturday 12 January 2008

Power and money

A new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK has just been given the go-ahead by the government (BBC News: New nuclear plants get go-ahead). Nice timing for the government, coming so soon after hikes in the price of energy - notably electricity and gas for home use, and the continuing increases in the price of oil (and petrol).

The Establishment do have a point when they say the hike in energy prices is partly due to price rises and crises to do with imported fuel, notably gas and oil. (It's also partly due to a hike in the fat profits of the energy companies, but that's another story!) However, the UK's energy prices being at the mercy of foreign suppliers, is the Establishment's own fault, for two main reasons.

Firstly, very little has been done to encourage self-sufficiency, in fact the reverse. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, the UK's coal industry was decimated, and thousands of miners were made unemployed and mining communities devastated - as electricity generation first started to use cheap imported coal, and then moved to oil and gas-powered electricity generators.

More recently, too little effort has been made to move towards renewable energy such as wind power - despite the UK having one of the most abundant sources of wind energy in Europe. Too little is done to encourage and, more importantly, enable, energy conservation (eg making insulation etc affordable to working class people).

Secondly, some of the blame for the hyper-inflation in fuel prices must lie with Western international policy. The Iraq war and occupation, and threats of military action against Iran, are causing uncertainty (to put it mildly) for oil supplies. The occupation of Afghanistan, and resistance thereto, will have implications for the security of gas pipelines in the region and, more importantly, relations with former Soviet republics in the region - Russia included (who supply a fair percentage of the natural gas consumed by the West).

In both cases, the rush to go nuclear is not a step in the right direction. Ecological concerns (of which there are many) aside, nuclear power will not enhance the UK's energy self-sufficiency. Uranium, like gas and oil, is imported - making its supply and price, potentially, just as much at the mercy of foreign suppliers. Nor is nuclear power cheap; it is actually more expensive than wind-produced electricity, let alone coal-produced. It just seems cheap because it is heavily subsidised by the government. Why?

The real reason for the Establishments love for nuclear power is that it supplies weapons-grade material, as used in nuclear weapons. Which is why the go-ahead for the new nuclear power stations comes "hot on the heels" of the government's decision to replace/upgrade the Trident nuclear weapons system. And Trident is a symptom of the Establishment's imperialist foreign policy, which has aggravated the international tensions responsible for the unstable energy supply and price!

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