TOSHIBA’S winding up of its nuclear business and, as a consequence, breaking its agreement to build another nuclear power station in Moorside in Cumbria is a savage indictment of government energy policy.
Its profits-driven model of inviting transnational consortiums to bid for tenders on a piecemeal basis mimics its approach to our railways and shipbuilding industries — and with equally disastrous results.
Major projects require government guarantees, so it makes sense for them to be planned, financed, built and run by the state.
Tory obsession with reducing state involvement in the economy lies behind the fiasco of Hinkley Point C, where the government has pledged to pay the Franco-Chinese consortium a strike price for power supplies almost double the existing wholesale rate.
Needless to say, the consortium partners – EDF of France and China’s General Nuclear Power Group – are parastatals in their own countries, leading a former EDF director to suggest that Britain’s taxpayers would be funding France’s energy needs.
The parallel with European national rail operators plugging into franchises on Britain’s privatised railways and repatriating profits to subsidise systems in France, Germany or wherever is uncanny.
Guaranteeing that citizens can heat their homes and that supplies to hospitals, schools, offices, factories and so on are constant and affordable should be a function of elected government.
But for the Tory Party and other neoliberalism zealots, all economic activity must offer an opportunity for private profit, whatever its knock-on effects.
Despite what pro-nuclear advocates claim, nuclear power is not clean energy. Nor will it be as long as there is no safe way to dispose of radioactive waste other than to store it underground for centuries while its toxicity diminishes.
Previous propaganda from government and the nuclear industry industry that, in time, electricity meters would become redundant because nuclear energy would be so plentiful and cheap, should give us all reason to pause before giving credence to these sources.
Toshiba’s decision, marking, as Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven says, “failure of the government’s nuclear gamble,” ought to herald a major rethink of Britain’s energy policy, with an emphasis on renewables.
Greater attention should also given to local energy provision, including municipal schemes, that have proven so successful in Germany for example.
Britain is not famed for a surfeit of hot sunny days, but even here solar energy should have a lot to contribute, to individual homes, blocks of flats and offices.
It beggars belief that the government should have decided, as an economy measure, to end incentive payments to encourage households to install solar panels on their roofs.
Westminster also effectively pulled the plug — albeit temporarily perhaps — on imaginative plans for tidal lagoons in Wales, beginning with Swansea Bay, that are environmentally friendly, safe and cheap to run.
The state investment to set tidal power in motion is minimal compared with the eye-watering sums involved with nuclear power from plant construction to decommissioning and storage.
The same applies to onshore and offshore wind farms and to other renewables, all of which require turbines and infrastructure that could be provided by Britain’s steel industry and produced by skilled engineers here too — especially in light of the post-Brexit capacity to direct such work to factories in Britain rather than put them out to competitive tender.
Apart from provision of energy, a major failing of successive governments in Britain has been the refusal to tackle seriously the major problem of energy-inefficient housing.
Setting up a government-sponsored best-practice insulation programme would reduce energy needs and household bills.
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