Submitted by Matthew on 15 February, 2017 - 12:10 Author: Martin Thomas and Patrick Yarker

Neil Laker and Mike Zubrowski (Solidarity 429) agree that nuclear power is “better than many on the left see it”, but argue for only marginal use on grounds of the finite supply of uranium ore and higher carbon-dioxide emissions from nuclear than from hydro-electric or large wind turbines. The source they cite estimates median CO2 emission rates at about 15 units for nuclear, compared to 30 for small and medium wind-power projects, 80-odd for solar, 500 for gas, and 900 for coal.

Uranium is abundant for the foreseeable future — approximately as common as tin or zinc. Nuclear fission options also include reactors using thorium. Thorium-based reactors now being developed are extra safe; have fewer waste problems; in fact, can burn existing waste. Thorium is so plentiful that it has been called a “thousand-plus year solution”. Laker and Zubrowski concede that dangers from nuclear power are overplayed, but they still cite safety as a strike against it. Yet its safety record, Chernobyl included, is overall better than any other energy technology’s.

The record of hydroelectric power includes such cases as the Banqiao Dam failure in 1975, which killed over 170,000 people, yet I’m sure Laker and Zubrowski would say “better controls” rather than “no hydroelectric”.

They claim that wind, sun, etc. could meet all energy needs. But 1. that estimate depends on biomass as their baseload option, and the supposed carbon-economy of biomass is dubious; 2. the web reference they cite does not give the promised detailed calculation; 3. prudence suggests developing and testing the possibilities of many technologies, rather than a few.

It is not for small socialist groups to pose as technological experts. We should debunk the demonisation of nuclear power common on the left (and not-so-left), but that’s all: I’m not arguing for any particular high percentage of nuclear power in this or that country’s energy mix.

Laker and Zubrowski’s assumption, however, seems to be we should suspect nuclear power more than other technologies because somehow it is inherently more capitalist, or more favoured by capitalists: “capitalist governments are using nuclear to avoid proper development of renewable energy”. Yet wind and solar power capitalists are not one whit less capitalist than nuclear-power developers. If anything, the current government bias is against nuclear power, because it requires larger lumps of long-term investment and slower profits.

Capitalist governments stalled nuclear-power development for decades after oil prices slumped again following their 1970s spike. Germany’s turn away from nuclear power, despite that country’s relatively development of wind and solar, has led to increased use of coal. The chief capitalist threat to renewable energy development is the drive for fracking and similar fossil-fuel technologies, motivated by quicker profits.

Martin Thomas, Islington

Black bloc and anti-Trump protests

It was good to see a report (Solidarity 429) about the demonstration at UC Berkeley which prevented the appearance on campus of Milo Yiannopoulos, a senior editor of the far-right Breitbart website. But it is important to clarify and stress this was not a victory for the kind of “no platforming” informed by independent working-class politics.

Members of the “black bloc” group were able to dismantle police barricades around the Student Union building and, by throwing rocks, fireworks and petrol bombs, cause considerable damage to it and to the Amazon shop on its first floor. The 1,500 peaceful protestors, almost all of them Berkeley students, did not support or protect these “black bloc” actions. If anything, the protest was hijacked and the protesters used as cover. “Liberals get the bullet too” read one of the spray-painted messages left behind.

The “black bloc” arrive tooled up (for example with baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire) on the frequent demonstrations and protests in the East Bay area, where the Berkeley campus is, and particularly in the city of Oakland nearby. Sometimes members are arrested: records indicate that many do not come from Oakland but from the outer suburbs of the Bay Area, home to middle class whites. The group forges no links with organised labour. The morning after the demonstration against Yiannopoulos, Latino and Latina janitors were clearing up the mess on campus.

Patrick Yarker, Norfolk