Beyond Nuclear International

Dead but still nailed to the perch

The nuclear power industry refuses to believe it is bereft of life

By Jonathon Porritt

Were it not for blanket Brexit, smothering every other news item, I suspect there would have been a lot more coverage of the recent collapse of Hitachi’s nuclear pretensions here in the UK. And a lot more questioning about what the hell happens next – in terms of UK energy and climate policy.

On January 17, Hitachi announced that it was ‘freezing’ (something of a euphemism for abandoning) its £16bn plan to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey. It would also be axing its involvement in the Oldbury plant on the River Severn. In so doing, Hitachi acknowledged that it would have to take a £2bn hit on its balance sheet. Despite which, its share price improved significantly.

Following hot on the heels of last year’s decision by Toshiba to axe its involvement in the Moorside nuclear plant near Sellafield, this moment marked the definitive collapse of dreams of a nuclear renaissance first conjured up by Tony Blair back in 2004, pre-Fukushima, and subsequently endorsed (with even greater and more naïve enthusiasm, post-Fukushima) by the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition Government in 2013.

As it happens, I’ve had significant skin in this game throughout that time. First, as Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, which invested significant resources in seeking to persuade Tony Blair that his 2005 change of heart on nuclear (Labour’s position before then was to keep the nuclear option ‘in the long grass’), was profoundly ill-judged. And then, together with three other former Directors of Friends of the Earth, in 2012 and 2013, warning David Cameron and his pro-nuclear Lib Dem groupies that his plans for six new plants by 2030 had zero prospect of ever being delivered.

(I really do try to avoid ‘told you so’ grandstanding here, but you might be amused to read the text of the actual letters the four of us sent Cameron at that time – accurate in almost every single particular!)

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The farming family who held out against Wylfa B

With Welsh nuclear plant “on hold”, 300 years of tradition is saved

By Linda Pentz Gunter

There is a crowd of people at the top of the garden path wondering where to go next. They were led up there by Horizon, a subsidiary of Hitachi, which had dangled the promise of local jobs and an economic boom in front of a low income community eager for new opportunities.

That opportunity was supposed to consist of two new Japanese-built advanced boiling water reactors, known as Wylfa B or, in Welsh, Wylfa Newydd. They would have gone up adjacent to the closed two-reactor Wylfa A site on the north coast of Anglesey in Wales. But on January 17, Hitachi got financial cold feet and “froze” the project.

Of course the whole thing was always a chimera. The “local” jobs were arguably scant. Horizon said it would build housing for a workforce of 4,000, indicating the bulk of workers would come from elsewhere. The price for the electricity Wylfa B would generate was never articulated by the company. The local council gave Horizon permission to begin clearing the proposed site even though the company did not yet have the Development Consent Order necessary for the nuclear plant to proceed.

wylfa storm clouds

Storm clouds had been gathering over Wylfa for a while, long before the January 17 announcement to freeze the new nuclear project (Photo: Julian Wynne)

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Jaitapur: A risky and expensive project for India

Six-reactor EPR project moves forward with cost and safety issues unresolved

By Suvrat Raju and M.V. Ramana

In December, the French company Électricité de France (EDF) submitted a “techno-commercial proposal” to the Indian government for the Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra. The idea of importing six nuclear European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) was initiated by the United Progressive Alliance government more than a decade ago, but the project had made little progress due to concerns about the economics and safety of the EPRs, local opposition, and the collapse of the initial French corporate partner, Areva. Despite these problems, in the past few months, the Modi government has taken several high-level steps towards actuating the project.

In March 2018, EDF and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) signed an “industrial way forward” agreement in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron. Last month, after meeting the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj announced that “both countries are working to start the Jaitapur project as soon as possible”. The urgency is inexplicable as it comes before the techno-commercial offer has been examined and as earlier questions about costs and safety remain unanswered. Moreover, with the Indian power sector facing surplus capacity and a crisis of non-performing assets (NPAs), a large investment in the Jaitapur project is particularly risky.

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Black Mist, Burnt Country

Artists respond to the devastation of British atomic tests at Maralinga

By Linda Pentz Gunter

During the Cold War, more than two thousand atomic tests were carried out by the nuclear weapons powers. They chose to detonate some of these “tests” over the heads of unwilling, and mainly unwitting people, who, having been exposed to the radioactive fallout, were then callously treated as guinea-pigs.

One of the least-known chapters in this disgraceful history is the part played by Great Britain, which tested its atomic bombs in Australia. The tests there took place in the 1950s. There were 12 detonations, mainly at Maralinga and also Emu Field and Monte Bello Islands.

Revelations in a recent book, Maralinga, by Frank Walker showed how British scientists secretly used the affected Australian population to study the long-term effects of radiation exposure, much like the Americans did with Marshall Islanders. Although the scientists involved began by testing animal bones, they soon moved on to humans. A directive was issued by UK scientists to “Bring me the bones of Australian babies, the more the better,” an experimentation that lasted 21 years.

KarenStandke_Road to Maralinga II

Road to Maralinga II by Karen Standke (b. 1973)

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We need a green planet at peace

The new US Congress should make a New Peace Deal

By Medea Benjamin and Alice Slater
(Opinions of op-ed writers on these pages are their own)

A deafening chorus of negative grumbling from the left, right, and center of the US political spectrum in response to Trump’s decision to remove US troops from Syria and halve their numbers in Afghanistan appears to have slowed down his attempt to bring our forces home. However, in this new year, demilitarizing US foreign policy should be among the top items on the agenda of the new Congress. Just as we are witnessing a rising movement for a visionary Green New Deal, so, too, the time has come for a New Peace Deal that repudiates endless war and the threat of nuclear war which, along with catastrophic climate change, poses an existential threat to our planet.

We must capitalize and act on the opportunity presented by the abrupt departure of “mad dog” Mattis and other warrior hawks. Another move toward demilitarization is the unprecedented Congressional challenge to Trump’s support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. And while the president’s disturbing proposals to walk out of established nuclear arms control treaties represents a new danger, they are also an opportunity.

yemen

Khalid (6) walks next to a burnt up car outside of his home in Sana’a, Yemen after an airstrike. (Photo: Becky Bakr Abdulla/NRC/Irin)

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Can the Green New Deal be saved?

A brave new climate plan challenged establishment Democrats to act; they balked

There is a new crop of progressives in the House of Representatives.  Democratic Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, other mainly women freshmen colleagues, and a new youth movement (see video below), have taken the lead on pushing for the Green New Deal, an energy plan that addresses the urgency of climate change and calls for the elimination of all fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

But when Ocasio-Cortez offered a resolution for the establishment of a House select committee to explore the Green New Deal, it was promptly and predictably killed by the Democratic leadership who instead established their own Select CommitteeHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tapped Florida Congresswoman, Kathy Castor to chair it. The panel will not directly address crafting a Green New Deal proposal. 

However, the youth-led non-partisan Sunrise Movement, says the Green New Deal is far from dead. Group members have been actively recruiting support for the Green New Deal on Capitol Hill — they currently have 45 Members of Congress on board and counting. They gained headlines during Congressional sit-ins (which Ocasio-Corez joined) and arrests (see video below). They view Pelosi’s decision as nothing more than a corporate-backed copout and vow to fight on, organizing around the country to build support and momentum.

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