Letter: Nuclear not the answer

Submitted by Matthew on 8 February, 2017 - 12:25 Author: Neil Laker and Mike Zubrowski

In Solidarity 428 “Copeland, Corbyn, and the future of nuclear”, Luke Hardy reminds us that “socialists should deal with facts”. True, but socialists should deal with all the relevant facts; and in the case of nuclear power, some facts point in one direction, others in another.

Hardy highlights many important points, but overlooks other crucial facts. It is simply not true that we cannot meet our energy needs with green and renewable energy generation, and without nuclear. Reports have been made that detail exactly how it can be done. “Smart grid” technology significantly reduces the baseline electricity level needed, and biomass can provide electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

Whilst the danger is overplayed especially compared to fossil fuels, we must recognise even with the minimised risks of workers’ control, mistakes do happen and should be factored in. A crucial often overlooked problem with nuclear fission is that uranium ore is finite. A transition away from fossil fuels which relied heavily on fission will deplete reserves faster. At best, nuclear fission could be a stop-gap during the urgent transition from fossil fuels to renewable. In practice, capitalist governments are using nuclear to avoid proper development of renewable energy, rather than as such a stop-gap.

Nuclear fusion in the future would not have this issue, or most others, as the fuel could be extracted from water. Furthermore, nuclear energy creates more carbon dioxide per unit energy than hydroelectric or large wind turbines, although at current technological levels less than most solar-electric. This must be one of the central considerations when planning a transition to green energy. There is no shortage of money in our society — there is huge wealth in the banks of the rich — so the small differences in cost are insignificance compared to environmental, safety and sustainability questions.

Estimates put solar and onshore wind turbines slightly cheaper than nuclear, and offshore slightly more expensive. Recognition that nuclear fission is better than many on the left see it as does not mean we should necessarily support new nuclear power stations.

A democratically planned transition would aim to rapidly move away from fossil fuels with a minimal use of fission, with an aim to ending that as soon as possible. It seems unlikely that construction of a whole new generation of nuclear power stations would be part of that transition.