Trident and Jobs

We are currently updating all our briefings and working on some new ones. The original version of Trident and Jobs was published three years ago. The issue is as important now as it was then. You can download the PDF version here. Like all our briefings it is published under a Creative Commons License that means you can download, use and adapt provided you acknowledge the original was published on this site.

Briefing 4

The case for scrapping Trident

In 2015 the joint STUC /Scottish CND report ‘Trident and Jobs: the case for a Scottish defence Diversification Agency’ was launched at the STUC congress.  The report provides a powerful case for scrapping Trident and strong arguments that defence diversification would have a massively positive effect on jobs and employment.  However, six years on the Westminster government is pushing ahead with Trident replacement.  

According to CND UK this will be at a cost of at least £205 billion. This money should be spent on jobs, homes, education, and health, improving the lives of the British people without threatening the lives of others.

Nuclear weapons are a threat to us all

But the case against Trident isn’t just a case for better jobs.  A Unite Executive statement in 2010 summed up the wider case against Trident, saying:

The question of Britain’s nuclear weapons system is not about employment alone, however.  It is first of all a moral issue, and then a strategic one concerning Britain’s place in the world and the international development we wish to see.  Such weapons would, if used, constitute a mortal threat to humanity’s survival; they are massively expensive; senior military figures have described them as ‘militarily useless’ and said that they should be scrapped; and our possession of them encourages other countries to seek a similar arsenal.

No time for business as usual

Despite excellent policy positions, in practice, unions organising in the defence industry have continued to argue for the status quo on the grounds that Trident represents jobs.  We argue that when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are so high that immediate action is required to avoid catastrophic climate change and with high levels of unemployment business as usual is not an option.

A million climate jobs

It’s time to combine the powerful economic and moral cases against Trident with the case for the major reorientation in economic activity that makes a rapid transition to a low carbon economy possible.  This is not a fanciful notion.  The Campaign Against Climate Change has worked through in detail how a million climate jobs across the UK could be paid for and could make the transition in short order.  Defence diversification and a transition to a low carbon economy can work hand in hand. The workers and the skills that currently support Trident and other parts of the defence industries are an essential and necessary part of the transition.

Jobs under threat

Jobs in the defence sector in Scotland are under threat with reduced frigate orders and the end of the aircraft carrier contracts.  Arguing for the status quo to protect jobs has simply slowed a decline in employment.  The strategy has failed and will not work in the future.  Waiting for the private sector to intervene and invest in alternative construction jobs is also a strategy doomed to fail.  Industries that aim for short term profit will not take the long-term decisions required.  

Action for change

Change will have to be fought for.  However, the time is right and there are openings we can exploit.  In 2016 the Scottish Government nationalised the Ferguson shipyard on the Clyde.  In the same year it announced a proposal to consider a state-owned energy company.  But progress has been glacially slow.  A necessary sense of urgency could be injected with a campaign that unites trade unions, environmentalists, and peace campaigners.  A state energy company needs to be more than just a retailer of green energy.  It could coordinate investment into production and distribution and plan long term for retraining and training in the necessary skills for climate jobs.  And in protecting jobs and creating new jobs it could win the argument with those workers in defence, construction and oil and gas who feel vulnerable to change.

If not now when?

To get such a campaign moving and transform policy into action requires urgent and democratic debate among the workforces involved and serious and sustained support from their unions and from environmental campaigns.  The stakes are high, but we have the possibility of taking a real lead in Scotland.  In the words of Primo Levi – if not now when?

About Scot E3
Scot.E3 is a group of rank-and-file trade unionists, activists, and environmental campaigners. In 2017 we made a submission to the Scottish Government’s Consultation on a Scottish Energy Strategy. Since then, we have been busy producing and sharing leaflets and bulletins.

We believe there is a compelling case for a radical shift in energy policy. Large numbers of jobs have been lost in the Scottish oil and gas sector. Nearly a third of Scottish households suffer from fuel poverty with the elderly worst affected. In 1989 primary energy capacity in Scotland was 45% more than the level of demand, yet we’re heading for a serious shortfall in energy production by 2030. And looming over all this is the prospect of catastrophic climate change, which will wreck the future for our children and grandchildren. 

The stakes couldn’t be higher. However, we have the knowledge and the skills to make a difference to people’s lives in the here and now. Leaving things to ‘the market’ is clearly not working. A sustainable future requires a coherent strategy for employment, energy, and the environment. We need a sense of urgency. We need a coordinated strategy and massive public investment. 

In Scotland we have a unique set of circumstances: a strong skills base; abundant resources for sustainable energy production; and an opportunity to develop a strategy that puts jobs and environment at the heart of economic strategy. What we do locally could be an inspiration for action worldwide. 

Wind Power, Green Jobs, Global Capitalism

Mike Downham reviews ‘Who wields the welding rod’ recently published in the London Review of Books

It’s impossible to do justice here to James Meek’s 12,000 word piece “Who holds the welding rod?” (LRB 15th July).

This exceptional investigation took journalist Meek to Hull, Campbeltown and remotely (because of Covid) to Vietnam through a Vietnamese researcher. The piece is threaded with the bitter experiences of many individual workers and an intimate account of the Campbeltown community’s past and present predicaments.

The story starts with a vivid picture of the voyage of a German-owned cargo ship loaded with wind towers which had left the Vietnamese port of Phu My in early April last year, arriving more than a month later in Hull.

The towers are massive. The hollow tapered columns, made of thick painted steel, are designed to be attached to the sea-bed, raising the turbines high enough above the sea for clearance of their huge blades. They are hundreds of feet tall and weigh hundreds of tonnes.

This shipment was destined for Hornsea Two in the North Sea, which will be the largest offshore windfarm in the world, scheduled to be operational next year.

The towers were made in a factory in Phu My by the Korean company CS Wind. The towers for Hornsea One were made by a CS wind factory in Campbeltown. CS wind doesn’t have a factory in Korea. Instead it has factories in Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, China, Canada and Scotland (Campbeltown). It’s really one vast international factory. The factories in both Canada and Scotland have been closed down because CS wind said they couldn’t make a profit. In the year or so before closure working conditions in the Campbeltown factory deteriorated to such an extent that serious accidents, some of them permanently disabling, became common. Then 100 jobs were lost from a small remote town which offers few other employment opportunities.

The Scottish Government had made it attractive for CS Wind to start a factory in Campbeltown, though it could have invested instead in an available Scottish company. They chose the cheaper investment of a Korean company, knowing full well that the reason it was cheaper was that CS Wind pays its workers less and works them for longer hours. The jobs it provided people in Campbeltown, more like slave labour than jobs, lasted less than three years. 

CS wind may sound powerful but it’s at the bottom of the pyramid of control in the wind industry. At the top are the project developers, who put up the money – companies like Orsted (controlled by the Danish government) and SSE (London-listed, Scotland-based). The project developers contract engineering companies to manufacture and install the turbines. In Europe and much of the world the dominant engineering players are Vestas (Danish) and Siemens-Gamesa (German-Spanish), both of whom manufacture the blades and the turbines themselves because they are high-value, and contract out the rest, including the wind towers.

Are the conflicting goals of cheap green energy, free trade and secure well-paid jobs irreconcilable? At one point Meek thinks they are. But later he says:

It shouldn’t be more important that the North Sea wind farms get built than that some of their towers are made by low-paid labourers working twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week; and yet the immense utopian project to decarbonise human activity forges ahead, while the equally utopian project to end the setting of ‘low income country’ worker against ‘high income country’ worker barely exists. The mad dream of a green energy transition might just be starting to come true, with much of the credit due to stubborn activists, clever engineers and a handful of far-sighted policymakers. But it is also happening for the unlikely reason that it has been redefined as a global capitalist-consumerist project. It realises utopian goals while simultaneously keeping stock-markets ticking over, making the rich richer and spreading a general sense of virtue. The system has been able to turn the green energy transition into a set of products – electric cars, solar panels, wind turbines – but the transition  to a world of better-treated workers involves systemic changes that are the antithesis of commodification.

We have an internationalist movement to save humanity from climate. But we also have an internationalist movement to save humanity from capitalist exploitation. For the latter movement to win the struggle, as Meek concludes, a world factory like CS Wind’s demands a world trade union.

Scotland and the end of the Nuclear Myth?

Brian Parkin takes look at the past, present and possible futures of nuclear power in Scotland. If you want to read more on this topic do try the excellent paper by Simon Butler on ten reasons why nuclear is not the answer.

A MURKY MYSTERY

On a per head of population, Scotland has the highest concentration of nuclear installations in the world. Apart from the Advanced Gas Reactor stations (AGR’s) at Hunterston B, (Ayrshire) and Torness (East Lothian), both owned and operated by eDF, the other nuclear sites in Scotland are where nuclear power generation has ceased- but where licences remain for the continuation of nuclear power generation in the future.  In total the number of nuclear sites in Scotland is five- the 2 operating reactors plus Chapelcross, Hunterston A and Dounreay in Caithness. In addition to the civilian generating sites, there are military related sites at Faslane on the Clyde, Vulcan in Caithness and Rosyth near Edinburgh. (See map).

The Chapelcross and Hunterston A stations are the now decommissioning Magnox-type reactors, ten of which formed the UK’s entrance into the world’s nuclear power race. The Magnoxs were developed over a number of years and so shared little in design and operational characteristics- but what they all shared was a graphite (carbon) core which was gas (CO2cooled) and which moderated (controlled) the speed of the Uranium235 fission- which in turn provided the heat for the steam that drove the electric turbines. All Magnox reactors are currently in the hands of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority with the intention to render the sites decontaminated and safe- a process for which the technology is yet to be developed and the costs unknown.

The Dounreay site is the home to that ultimate nuclear fission fantasy- the Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR). The two FBR plants were intended to reproduce their own Plutonium fuel during operation- but in actual fact produced less power than consumed by their works canteens(!). The Dounreay plants present the greater decommissioning challenges due to the extremely high and extended half-life of their Plutonium fuel rods and the extreme levels of site irradiation.

GOING, GOING, GONE?

The remaining AGRs at Hunterston B and Torness, along with the other six such stations in the UK, both share a generic design fault in the form of micro and hairline cracks in their moderator block graphite cores. This has brought forward the AGR closure programme with the problem so acute that the Hunterston B station is due, on a 40% load to shut-down within the next 4 years. This will leave Scotland with the remaining Torness AGR at a 1360 MWe rating on declining load factor. According to current plans Scotland will have ceased to have any nuclear generated electricity within its borders by 2031.

But even after some 60 years of nuclear failure it might be premature to read the funeral rites.

PROBLEMS

From its very inception, nuclear power has been beset by problems. Its capital costs have historically been prone to going through the roof. Also, recurring safety issues have led to operational caution in the form of low load-factors with down-time and unscheduled outages leading to negative revenues from unreliability- all of which have made nuclear power the most expensive and unreliable on the system.

But in order to disguise the real cost of nuclear power, it has always been given a ‘first on the system/must run’ status to which in addition it has been covered by transferred subsidies from other forms of generation. In other words, nuclear power has historically inflated the overall cost of electricity to the disbenefit of the consumer. Nuclear power has been one of the biggest aggravating factors in the persistence of fuel poverty.

Also, despite a continuous torrent of glossy promotions, the nuclear industry has always hidden the cost and environmental hazards of the back-end matter of waste ‘management’; how to safely treat ‘spent’ fuel rods that represent a lethal radiological threat, plus hundreds of tonnes of reactor core material which must be ‘managed’- kept out of harms way in sealed containment for an incalculable number of years. At no stage in the planning and design of any reactor have such technological and economic challenges been factored in.

ECONOMIES OF SCALE 1: BIGGER IS BETTER

The continual economic failure of nuclear power has given rise to an enduring industry fantasy- basically by building bigger reactors with higher power densities and outputs, an ideal reactor design will become a generic model with large run replication and better reactor efficiencies. Hence some thirty years of shift-shaping a Pressurised Water Reactor of around 1,400 Megawatts output in the hope of a tooth fairy. So around the year 2000, optimum size thinking settled on the 1,600 MWe European Pressurised Water Reactor of the type now being constructed at Hinkley in Somerset- a sister of the Normandy and Finnish massive over-run and over-cost failures. So instead:

ECONOMIES OF SCALE 2: SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: THE SMALL MODULAR REACTOR (SMR)

This is the obverse; a Small is Beautiful alternative to the Bigger is Better doctrine. The big sell of the SMR is a reactor that it is small, therefore requiring a smaller site footprint. It is also a modular plant that can be factory assembled and delivered with each unit- the reactor, plus cooling system components, steam turbine, pressure vessels and steam generator that when assembled form a single module that just requires being bolted into an outer shell and utility services like an Ikea kitchen flat-pack- or so the promotional goes. Also, once assembled, the reactor core can be loaded with fuel and control rods- all without the need for refuelling during the lifetime of the plant- about 40 years. The concept of the SMR is derived from earlier military Pressurised (Light) Water Reactors that were developed during the 1950-60’s to power nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. Typically, such a reactor would be rated at around 30MW electrical output- and in the US and Russia such ‘mini’ SMR’s have been undergoing operational trials.But in many ways, the SMR is pretty well a conventional reactor sub-species in that its produced energy is derived from nuclear fission with Uranium235 as the fuel. 

However, in the UK Rolls Royce have been scaling up their SMR designs to much bigger out-puts to more conventional power station ‘set’ sizes of 330-440MWe. Initially, this would seem to contradict the aim of the objective of compact size units- which to some degree is illustrated with the image of a SMR reactor encased in primary containment shell on the back of a low-loader truck. Also, the slender diameter of the reactor primary containment promotes the impression of technical simplicity-an impression dispensed by the cutaway illustration- added to which is the reality of the most demanding of shell pressures and an internal temperature hotter than the sun.

Initially, the sales spiel regarding the relative simplicity of the SMR is based on a claimed design and operational simplicity and flexibility of operation- along with claimed low capital costs of some 30% less than ‘conventional’ Pressurised Water Reactors. And it is here that SMR is now being projected as the answer to the need for a‘baseload’ component in a mainly renewables- but largely intermittent generating capacity. And with outgoing AGR nuclear stations at Hunterston and Torness- plus declining output from the gas-fired station at Peterhead, a smaller, lower cost and flexible SMR has some attraction.

Scotland; now virtually at the end of its fossil power generation history faces a future of almost unlimited renewable energy power generation technologies. Wind, wave, tidal, hydro, geo-thermal and solar power has recently begun to combine in powering Scotland for whole days without fossil or nuclear inputs. That is the future; not with a nuclear component that as ever offers jam tomorrow- but in the present offers the highest cost and most dangerous energy on the planet.

Dr Brian Parkin. July 2021.

The UKCCC and carbon budgets

The People and Nature blog has published two articles that take a critical look at the UK Climate Change Committee UKCCC).  In an introduction to the two articles by Peter Somerville, Gabriel Levy notes that UKCCC has played an important role in warning that on current progress the UK is not going to meet its’ targets at any of the milestones set over the next two decades.  However, he notes that 

The CCC’s carbon budgets are not a realistic guide to the UK playing its part in tackling climate change – and are used by government ministers and other politicians to obstruct and delay effective action.

The way the CCC budgets are calculated would allow the UK economy to emit at least twice as much greenhouse gas as any amount that could possibly be described as its fair share.

Both the brief introduction to carbon budgets and the two linked articles on How the UK Climate Change Committee steals from the carbon budget are strongly recommended. In the run up to COP26 in November there will be a crescendo of announcements from the UK government and the climate movement needs to be alert to false solutions, mystification and greenwashing.

The global carbon budget from 1800 onwards (with a view to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees) as a bucket, which is nearly full. A graphic by the Global Carbon Project

Stop Cambo

Both the UK and Scottish governments remain committed to continuing extraction of North Sea Oil and Gas. Carbon emission from the burning of these fuels are more than five times those of the whole Scottish economy. Yet these emissions are not included in Scottish or UK targets for emissions reduction. The assumption is that other countries will cut usage and the market will then drive down demand or, and more often, that we can carry on producing willy nilly but consumers will find ways of capturing the carbon. Both of these events are deferred into the future and exploration and development of new fields continues. The Sea Change report shows how these plans are incompatible with a zero carbon economy and with a just transition.

Thanks to Friends of the Earth Scotland for these notes on the latest development west of Shetland.

  • Oil giant Shell and Siccar Point Energy are seeking permission from the UK Government to develop the Cambo oil field, West of Shetland, just months ahead of COP26. In the first phase, due to start in 2025, the companies expect to extract 150 million barrels of oil – the emissions equivalent of 16 coal-fired power plants running for a year. They anticipate operating the Cambo field, which contains 800 million boe, until 2050, by which time Britain has pledged to be net carbon neutral.
  • The Cambo Field is the second largest oil and gas development waiting for approval and once up and running is set to be the fifth largest producer in the North Sea. If approved, Cambo Field will be the first UK project to get the green light since the International Energy Agency Net Zero report calling for no new investment in oil and gas starting this year and the Shell ruling mandating the company to slash carbon emissions 45% by 2030. 
  • The UK Government is currently expected to give its final approval on the project over the next six to eight weeks. Moving forward with the Cambo Field contradicts the findings of the IEA’s net zero report and is incompatible with limiting warming to the Paris Agreement target of 1.5C. 
  • The climate impacts of opening the Cambo Oil field would be devastating. In the first phase alone, developers want to extract 150million barrels of oil; the emissions from which are equivalent to running a coal-fired power station for 16 years. The field is expected to operate until 2050 – the point by which your government has committed to reaching net zero emissions.  And this is just the beginning. Cambo Field is only one of many oil and gas projects waiting for government approval that have the potential to extract 1.7 billions barrels of oil. 
  • Approving the Cambo field will be a massive failure of UK climate leadership and threatens to undermine the success of the crucial UN climate talks. In just a few months, the eyes of the world will turn to the UK as the hosts of the UN climate talks in Glasgow. Approving the Cambo field will send a clear message that this government is not serious about climate action and not willing to do its part to phase out support for oil and gas. If the UK keeps extracting oil and gas, how can it expect other countries to do anything different?
  • The International Energy Agency has stated that to meet the 1.5°C target in the Paris Agreement, there should be no more new investment in oil, gas, or coal. Further, the recent UK Climate Change Committee assessment clearly laid out that current UK policies are far from delivering the UK’s climate goals. The amount of oil and gas in already operating fields in the UK will exceed our share of emissions in relation to the Paris climate goals. The world cannot afford to open new fossil fuel frontiers. This starts with rejecting the Cambo Field.
  • If Boris Johnson is serious about being a climate leader, he must reject Cambo, all new fossil fuel developments and support a just transition for oil and gas workers and impacted communities. It’s time to end the UK government’s support for maximising the economic recovery of oil & gas and commit instead to a rapid and fair energy transition. With the right policy support, the UK could create three jobs in clean energy for every oil & gas job at risk. We need a clear, credible plan to wind down production and deliver a just transition that is driven by oil and gas workers, their unions and affected communities. 
  • The Cambo Field will bring few jobs, little tax and a potentially huge clean up bill for the public purse. Contracts for construction and installation have been awarded to overseas firms, meaning the bulk of jobs will be outside of the UK. As part of a global oil market 80% of UK crude is currently exported, and so this field would not contribute significantly to UK energy security. Siccar Point Energy, who owns the majority stake in the proposed field, paid no net tax between 2015 and 2019, instead receiving £41mn from the government to cover decommissioning costs. Meanwhile, the complexity of the field and high cost of operating in the West of Shetland makes the project high risk, with similar projects suffering from large cost overruns that have driven producers to bankruptcy.

Climate organising in the workplace

Here’s the video of Ian Allinson’s introduction to a discussion on organising in the workplace that we held on 25th June 2021. Ian is a former Fujitsu shop steward who ran as a candidate for the Unite union general secretary in the last election.

Ian share this guide to workplace action and the law: https://rebrand.ly/guide-climate-strike-law

In his introduction he drew on ideas from Jane McAlevey. sfbbooks has copies of two of her books on special offer:

Raising expectations and raising hell – £7

No Shortcuts – £8

email sfbbooks@gmail.com to order (Postage extra)

New poll highlights training needs of offshore workers

Thanks to Platform for sharing this:

Off the back of last year’s impactful survey and report OFFSHORE: Workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, Friends of the Earth Scotland, Platform and Greenpeace are today releasing the results of a poll showing what workers want to change in the offshore energy industry, supported by RMT and Unite Scotland.

One of the key issues we heard from oil and gas workers in Offshore was the high cost of training, borne by workers as more and more are forced into short-term contracts, posed a barrier to moving easily between similar offshore jobs in renewables as well as oil and gas.

This new survey shows that these workers are paying an average of over £1,800 a year in training costs, and among more results that:

  • 97% are concerned about the UK’s offshore energy industry training costs
  • 74.5% are employed ad-hoc as contractors
  • 65% said their employer contributed 0% to their training costs including safety and first aid training in the past two years, which is up from 45% before 2015

94% of respondents said they would support an offshore passport, which licences accredited workers to work offshore in any sector through a cross-industry minimum training requirement.

Carbon Capture – video

Jess Cowell from Friends of the Earth Scotland introduced a discussion on Carbon Capture and Storage at a Scot.E3 public meeting on Friday 18th June.

Thanks to Sally from Biofuels Watch for these useful links:

1) Drax admits to environmental campaigners that its carbon capture and storage claims are not based on real world evidence: https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2021/drax-plcs-carbon-capture-claims-not-based-on-any-real-world-evidence-company-reveals-to-campaigners/

2) Written responses from Drax to environmental campaigners during Drax’s BECCS public consultation in March which reveal that Drax’s “BECCS assumptions are not based on trials” & its BECCS pilot project with C-Capture was not using ‘proven technology’: https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2021/drax-beccs-response/


3) Conflict of interest concerns over Rebecca Heaton’s role at Drax and her membership of the Climate Change Committee which is advising the UK Government on BECCS policy: https://www.ft.com/content/36c582e9-24af-425b-8952-054153ac5609


4) Why BECCS is a false climate solution: https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/burning-trees-will-not-save-us-climate-crisis-richard-dixon-3112293

You can download the Scot.E3 briefing on Bio Energy with Carbon Capture and storage from this sites resources page.

Andreas Malm and Wim Carton have also published an interesting paper on the political economy of carbon capture. You can download it here.

Pittsburgh – Green New Deal Declaration

There is a growing network of campaigns for a Green New Deal in the United States. This is an example from a newly established campaign in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. They are keen to get feedback from the wider network in the US and internationally.