Martin Thomas (Solidarity 230) is right to contribute further nuance to our thinking on the nuclear question. Yet he seems to miss our basic point: we are unconvinced that the left should positively advocate a “solution” which is known to cause further problems through its radioactive byproduct, carries unique risks, and still contributes to carbon emissions.
Yes, as Luke Hardy states, risks can be minimised — but they are still risks which we could choose to avoid altogether. We are not in favour of blanket opposition; we are in favour of testing and developing a diversity of technologies. We are also for the rights and livelihoods of those at Sellafield and elsewhere at the same time as acknowledging and opposing the government’s bias in favour of new nuclear, which comes alongside continuing support for fossil fuel (predominantly gas) production and underfunding of renewables.
We understand that renewables in their present form are equally “capitalist” as nuclear. What is decisive is the government’s bias against them. Indeed its heavily pro-gas and fracking agenda is tantamount to climate change denial. Their plans for nuclear power do not change this. (And surely Martin must see the difference between capitalism as a system of production, and the current Tory state administration, which mediates between different interests of fractions of capital).
As a movement we need to respond aggressively to the government’s claim that it is reducing emissions through a planned expansion of nuclear. The only way we can coherently do so is by understanding that this initiative is not only both unnecessary and totally insufficient, but that it actually holds back the development of genuinely sustainable and ecologically balanced energy systems. In other words we should neither advocate nuclear expansion (the case made by Luke and backed up by Martin) nor solely oppose it, but counterpose it with a demand for serious investment in renewable research and deployment.
We should remember too that the left and labour movement’s ability to resolve the question is constrained by the nation state. The UK has huge capacity for generation through hydroelectric and wind power, and less so for solar. But international, collectively owned renewables have the capabilities to meet the growing energy demand across the globe. For example the Noor 1 solar farm in Morocco, which is scheduled for completion in 2020, is predicted to meet the needs of its host state entirely.
The rest of Africa and continental Europe could be connected to further large scale solar projects in the Sahara — but such co-operation requires a politics beyond that of competing national economies and energy for profit.