China Syndrome: Meltdown Time for Pro-Nuclear Greens

I wonder what our pro-nuclear greenies will be thinking this week as they listen to President Xi Jinping and George Osborne bombastically declaring ‘a new nuclear dawn for the UK’.

I hope they’ll be feeling as ashamed as they should be.

It may be just a little harsh to blame the meltdown in UK energy policy on a handful of well-meaning but monumentally misguided environmentalists, who chose some time ago to lend their voices to the nuclear establishment here in the UK.

They were warned that it would probably end in tears, and so it has turned out. Here’s the indictment against them.

Creating confusion

They were warned that their high-profile support would prove to be massively confusing for many people, including a large number of environmentalists who were persuaded (often against their better judgement) that if the likes of George Osborne worldwemadeand his pro-nuclear buddies had decided that nuclear is ‘a necessary evil’, then that was good enough for them.

Personally, I suspect that this may even have influenced Friends of the Earth as it went through a hugely damaging ‘review’ of its own anti-nuclear stance a couple of years ago. Happily, under new CEO Craig Bennett, that deeply damaging equivocation has been set aside – and FoE will be first to be tweeting its disdain for George Osborne’s latest nuclear shenanigans this week.

There are even those who think that the pro-nuclear greenies are one of the reasons why Greenpeace’s campaign against nuclear power here in the UK has been anaemic at best, and utterly irrelevant at worst.

A failed technology

They were warned that EdF’s EPR (the reactor of choice for Hinkley Point) had already proved to be a total plonker at both Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto in Finland. And that it would inevitably prove to be a total plonker here in the UK. And so it has turned out.

To be fair, even they eventually woke up to that ineluctable reality, shamefacedly putting out a statement on September 18th:

“Hinkley C bears all the distinguishing features of a white elephant: overpriced, overcomplicated and overdue. The delay that was announced recently should be the final straw. The Government should kill the project.”

Devastating impact on sustainable energy alternatives

They were warned that any kind of pro-nuclear positioning would be devastating for the genuinely sustainable alternatives they simultaneously purport to support.

And that any kind of ‘both / and’ story (ie we need both lots of nuclear and lots of renewables) would be totally abused by a Government that cares only about nuclear – and about fracking.

And so it has proved to be, as Osborne has trashed the prospects forrenewables here in the UK, has consigned to history our zero-carbon agenda for the built environment, has ridiculed the importance of energy efficiency, and, in the process, has guaranteed that we have literally no chance whatsoever of achieving our statutory targets under the Climate Change Act.

Supping with the Devil, eat with a long spoon

They were warned that when you sup with these nuclear devils you can never be sure what you’re going to end up with. It’s no surprise to me, therefore, that our pro-nuke greenies have been keeping very quiet about the now inevitable prospect of a huge part of our energy system in the UK being handed over to the Chinese.

Neither Osborne nor Xi Jinping is particularly persuaded by EdF’s case for the EPR at Hinkley Point. But they’re both salivating with excitement at the prospect of giving the Chinese nuclear industry control over future developments at both Sizewell and Bradwell.

How can that possibly work from a sustainability point of view, let alone an energy security point of view? Even the Tories have started to wake up to this particular horror story.

Once captured by the nuclear industry, you don’t get to choose what you think might be the best (ie least problematic) option: you get what you’re given. And as pro-nuclear environmentalists, you get stitched up by an industry that gobbles up people like you for breakfast, that has lied, inveigled and bribed its way into the heart of umpteen governments over decades, often off the back of its still undeniable links to the nuclear weapons establishment.

So just how naïve can you be?

That’s some indictment. Five years ago, the UK was seen to be an indisputable leader in the international diplomacy of climate change. In Paris in a few weeks’ time we will be seen as an out-and-out pariah, sitting alongside the carbon-intensive horror stories of Canada and Australia.

To be sure, that’s primarily down to the Tories, and George Osborne in particular, with a lot of rather forlorn aiding and abetting from the Lib Dems under the last Coalition Government. But maybe they wouldn’t have got away with all that quite so easily if the Green Movement had been a lot more resolute in its advocacy of genuinely sustainable energy solutions.

So for God’s sake, think again before you shift your allegiance to the latest ‘just over the horizon’ dreams now being peddled so enthusiastically by the nuclear industry. In your recent recantation on the EPR front, here’s what you said:

“We urge the Government to scrap this plant (Hinkley C), and use the money promised to its investors to accelerate the deployment of other low carbon technologies, both renewable and nuclear. We would like to see the Government produce a comparative study of nuclear technologies, including the many proposed designs for small modular reactors, and make decisions according to viability and price, rather than following the agenda of the companies which have its ear.”

Elsewhere, you’ve made the case for the Integral Fast Reactor, and your colleague Stephen Tindale (a former Executive Director of Greenpeace UK) is out there proselytising passionately about the Molten Salt Reactor. Others bang on and on about Pebble Bed Reactors, or a variety of new reactors based on thorium technologies *.

Now, time to support the real solutions!

Give yourselves a break, guys! It is indeed just about possible, tens of billions of dollars and decades down the line, that one of these nuclear will-o’-the-wisps may materialise in such a form as to produce a few usable electrons.

In the meantime, that big old fusion reactor in the sky, known as ‘the sun’, will go on producing the wherewithal to revolutionise every aspect of our energy systems down here on Earth at a price that everyone will be able to afford.

And then bring in all the other renewables, reducing in price all the time, as well as a whole generation of new technologies driving both energy efficiency and storage, set to work through distributed micro-grids and the explosion of investment in electric vehicles, and you can see the future emerging right here and now in our everyday lives.

It took you all a very long time to recognise the EPR as the humungous white elephant it has been all along. So, please, think again before backing another whole herd of tomorrow’s white elephants, and get back to doing what you once did really well: advocating for the kind of radical decarbonisation on which our future depends.

That means killing off coal and kerosene first, and then oil and gas, through technologies that are already doing the job, in an increasingly affordable way, for rich countries and poor countries alike.

This article was originally published on Jonathon’s blog.

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Jonathon Porritt is Founder Director of Forum for the Future. His latest book, ‘The World We Madeis available from Phaidon.

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