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From The Socialist newspaper, 4 June 2008

Nuclear power: An expensive and dangerous failure

An energy policy partly based on nuclear power, as the government is proposing, obviously raises deep concerns about safety. Some of the most memorable serious accidents were at Windscale (now Sellafield) in 1957, the SL-1 incident in Idaho in 1961, which killed three people and the nuclear submarine fire at Liverpool docks in 1976. Then of course there were the disasters at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. But, it is also the sheer uneconomic nature of nuclear power that makes it an abject failure as a major energy source worldwide.

Roy Farrar

In the years after World War Two the nuclear industry alleged that their "sunshine units" would be an endless source of cheap, clean electricity. The Wilson Labour government in the 1960s claimed that this electricity would be "too cheap to meter"!

For years the UK's state-owned electricity generating board CEGB, wrongly declared in its annual reports that nuclear was the cheapest generator of electricity. Successive governments did not question this. But, in reality it was coal-fired power stations that subsidised the costs of nuclear electricity production.

In 1981 the Committee for the Study of the Economics of Nuclear Electricity (CSENE) unravelled the distortions and assumptions used by the CEGB. The CSENE exposed the accounting methods used to promote the fiction of nuclear power's 'cheapness'.

All nuclear power stations had experienced massive cost over-runs, but the CEGB's accounting methods gave prejudiced results against non-nuclear electricity generation.

The nuclear industry proved how unprofitable it really was after privatisation. In 1996 the newly created British Energy acquired seven Advanced Gas Reactor (AGR) stations and the country's only commercial pressurised water reactor (PWR) for 1.5 billion.

Actual construction costs had amounted to more than 50 billion, with more than 3 billion spent on the Sizewell PWR.

This government sell-off was denounced as an obscene giveaway at the time.

But, by 2002, having competed for electricity sales against non-nuclear electricity generators, British Energy's losses inevitably accumulated.

In less than a year, in the biggest write-off of capital in the UK till then, the company's market value plummeted to about 100 million. British Energy had to go cap in hand to New Labour for a massive hand-out so it could continue to trade.


Despite protests of favouritism from non-nuclear companies the government agreed to 'loan' 410 million to British Energy - raising it to 650 million shortly after.

Energy minister Brian Wilson had earlier told Parliament in 2002 that New Labour would provide the 200 million for the plant decommissioning.

Dale Vince, managing director of Ecotricity, a renewable energy company, said in 2002: "If we were given 410 million instead of British Energy, we could have built enough onshore wind energy to power 10 percent of the country's electricity needs".

Although bailed out of bankruptcy, Blair's government soon gave another handout to British Energy of 184 million in March 2005 for "spent fuel liabilities".

However, the compelling and logical arguments used by anti-nuclear and green campaigners are not enough to change government policy.

Under capitalism, vested interests - not least the nuclear industry's ties with the military - will ensure that the dangerous, and uneconomic pursuit of nuclear energy continues. Only under a socialist society, with a democratically organised plan of production, can we implement an alternative, effective and safe energy policy.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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In The Socialist 4 June 2008:

New Labour's failures: Don't just get angry, get Active

Environment and socialism

Editorial: Target 'ecological' taxes at the biggest polluters

Heathrow protest: Demonstrating against a third airport runway

Cosmetic measures against fuel poverty

Socialist Party workplace news

Belfast Airport workers: The long battle for justice

Come to the national shop stewards network conference

National Shop Stewards Network second conference advert

Union members reject pay insult

Socialist Party campaigns

Don't deport AmDani Juna

Keep our NHS public

Nottingham: Student protests at arrests

Socialist Party review

Engels: A Revolutionary Life

Socialist Party youth and students

Youth against racism

London Youth Against Racism activity

National demo against racist BNP

Students step-up struggle

Berlin: 8,000 school students strike

Housing crisis

Markets cannot end house building crisis

Nationalise Bradford & Bingley

Environment: Nuclear power

Nuclear power: An expensive and dangerous failure


The beautiful game, with beautiful profits for some

International socialist news and analysis

Lebanon - civil war or rule by sectarian landlords

Israel: Olmert will go, but the political crisis will stick


Home   |   The Socialist 4 June 2008   |   Join the Socialist Party

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