New Report – Green Jobs in Scotland

A report released today, written by Transition Economics for the STUC shows how the transition to a low or Zero carbon economy could create a large number of new jobs. The report’s findings underline the need for planning, public investment and public control and consequences if these steps are not taken.

New STUC report shows the potential for up to 367,000 green jobs in Scotland. However poor policy choices could see less than 131,000 jobs being created.

Written by Transition Economics, “Green Jobs In Scotland” looks at how energy, buildings, transport, manufacturing, waste, agriculture and land-use need to be decarbonised, and sets out how Scotland can maximise green job creation, as well as fair work and effective worker voice in these jobs. It finds:

  • Energy: The transition to zero-carbon energy could see 30,000 – 95,000 jobs created over 15+years. However, this will require a national energy generation company, local content rules, and upgrades to ports and manufacturing sites. Without policies like this we could see less than 16,000.
  • Buildings: Decarbonising buildings & broadband could see 61,000 – 136,000 jobs created over 10+years, plus a further 22,000 – 37,000 jobs over 3 years in building new social housing. This area holds the greatest potential for job creation but requires billions of investment – including in a street-by-street retrofitting programme run directly by Local Authorities.
  • Transport: Upgrading and expanding transport could see 26,000 – 60,000 jobs over 10+ years with a further 11,000-13,000 ongoing jobs in operations. However, this will require significant investment in municipally run electric buses, railways, shipping, cycle and walking infrastructure etc.
  • Manufacturing and Industry: Heavy industry is particularly hard to decarbonise but 5,000 – 9,000 jobs could be created in steel, CCS and re-manufacturing, while existing employment numbers in chemicals and refining could be protected. However, even achieving this will require investment in plant conversions and an industrial strategy to promote domestic manufacturing.
  • Waste: The circular economy and waste management could provide 17,000 – 23,500 jobs. But this needs policies to boost recycling capacity, improve waste collection, scale up the deposit and return scheme, develop tool libraries, expand reverse logistics services, and expand remanufacturing.
  • Land-Use and Agriculture: Greening land-use and agriculture could create 17,000 – 43,000 jobs over 12+ years. But this requires significant investment in reforestation and rewilding, alongside support for local organic farming and stronger enforcement of labour standards in Scottish agriculture.

The recommendations in the report span UK, Scottish and Local Government, with the scale of public investment required to meet climate targets and potential job levels exceeding what the Scottish Government alone can access under the current financial settlement. However, calls for a more active industrial strategy, far greater levels of public ownership and significant public investment noting that employment in Scotland’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy decreased in 2019.

You can read the full report here.

Scot.E3’s campaigning pledge for COP26

With the delayed COP26 United Nations Climate talks scheduled for Glasgow in November the eyes of the world are on Scotland in 2021.

The Westminster and Holyrood governments aim to present themselves as international leaders in tackling the climate crisis.  However, the policy of both governments is to maximise economic recovery of North Sea oil and gas.  The Sea Change report shows how this policy is completely incompatible with keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees centigrade.   Oil and gas production needs to stop here in Scotland and worldwide.  At the same time the lives and livelihoods of those working in oil and gas must be protected.

We therefore demand:

  1. The immediate cessation of all new exploration, development and drilling activity in the British sector of the North Sea.
  2. A planned and phased end of oil and gas production in the North Sea that would ensure that activity ends by 2030.  
  3. The establishment of a publicly owned and democratically controlled Scottish Climate Service with a five-year target to create 100,000 climate jobs. The SCS would for new investments in the production, distribution and storage of renewable energy and Scotland wide projects, for example, retrofitting homes and offices to high insulation standards and district heating.
  4. Guaranteed employment and retraining with the SCS for all oil and gas workers whose jobs end as a result of decommissioning.

We would like individuals and organisations to discuss the pledge, support and campaign for it.  If you, or your organisation, would like to add your name to the list of supporters, please email Scot.E3 at triple.e.scot@gmail.com .  You can use the form on our contact page if you wish.  The list of signatories is here.Please get in touch If you would like someone from Scot.E3 to speak at a discussion on the issues that the pledge raises

The Petroleum Amendment Bill – why the silence?

In the year that COP26 comes to Scotland Neil Rothnie asks why there is no public debate on the Petroleum Amendment Bill

For the last 15 months the Petroleum Amendment Bill has been sitting on the table in the House of Lords.  The Bill is a private member’s bill based on the recommendations of the Sea Change report.  It calls for an end to oil and gas exploration, the rapid phasing out of production and a transition for oil and gas workers into the renewables industry. 270,000 jobs are supported by the industry.

So just when were the oil and gas workers, their families and communities going to be informed of the existence of this plan, and get the opportunity to scrutinise and discuss it?

Who has been in on this discussion? Who has been making what plans? 

Presumably the Government has a view on the Bill.  Why the silence? Their current plan, the Act that the Bill aims to amend, is spectacularly unfit for purpose.  It calls for “maximising economic recovery” of North Sea oil and gas. This is at complete odds with their claim to be leading the world against climate change. When UK Cabinet Minister, Alok Sharma, chairs the COP26 discussions in Glasgow in November is he going to be inviting delegates from Russia, Saudi Arabia, America, China and every other fossil fuel producer to follow the UK lead and maximise economic recovery of their own fossil fuels?  

Are the trade unions in on the discussion?  Have they informed their members on the North Sea what is being proposed?

Does the industry not feel the need to comment on a radical plan that has massive implications for their business on the North Sea and internationally.  If it’s necessary in the UK such a plan not necessary internationally? 

Do the Labour Party, the SNP and the Greens have positions on the Bill?  Lady Sheehan is a Liberal Democrat so presumably her party has a view.  What is it?

Why the silence?  Does the media, the BBC and the newspapers, know of the existence of this Bill.   Are they deliberately ignoring it and going to continue only to report what is written for them in the oil company public relations departments?  A proud tradition that has disappeared the North Sea from national scrutiny.

What about the environmental movement itself?  Scot.E3 has been campaigning on employment, energy and environment for three and a half years; but such is the silence that it was only alerted when Baroness Sheehan and Mary Robinson (past President of Ireland) alluded to the Bill in a recent article in the Times. 

Photo by Zukiman Mohamad on Pexels.com

Cumbria and climate jobs

Congratulations to climate campaigners in Cumbria who have fought so hard to prevent the building of a new coal mine. The council had given the go ahead but the application has now been called in by the Westminster Government with the result that there will now be a public enquiry. The proponents of the mine say that it will bring 500 jobs to West Cumbria. The campaign has argued that tackling the climate crisis means that the carbon must remain in the ground and that serious responses to the crisis will create many more jobs. The report they commissioned ‘The potential for green jobs in Cumbria’ shows exactly how this could happen. Local conditions vary but this is possible everywhere.

Fight the Fire

Jonathan Neale spoke about his new book “Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs” at a Scot.E3 online public meeting on 12th March 2021.  The book is a tremendous resource for climate activists and trade unionists.

You can watch the full video of Jonathan’s talk below.  But do read the book – it’s available in hard copy from Resistance Books – make sure your local bookshop stocks it.

“The most compelling and concise guide to averting climate breakdown.”

Brendan Montague, editor, The Ecologist.

The Ecologist has published the digital version of Fight the Fire for free so that it is accessible to all. Click on this link to download a PDF or ebook from the Ecologist website.

COP26 Coalition – solidarity with GMB British Gas Workers

Important statement from the COP26 Coalition in support of striking British Gas Workers

Solidarity with GMB British Gas Workers. 

The COP26 Coalition sends solidarity to the GMB members in the gas industry taking action to resist the outrageous fire-and-re-hire tactics of their employer. Big employers like British Gas who have made massive profits over many years must not be allowed to make workers’ pay for failing profits through loss of jobs, lower wages and cuts in terms and conditions.

The current crisis of British Gas is emblematic of a deeper crisis that is and will continue to affect many industries. Your fight deserves the support of all workers and all those who demand a fairer and more just society where the rights of shareholders to squeeze profits out of the labour and impoverishment of workers is ended. The rights of workers must be protected and must be a priority for the climate justice movement.

The UN Climate talks at the Glasgow COP26 meeting in November 2021 is a critical moment for all of us, for the climate and for communities in the global south who have contributed the least to climate change yet are suffering first and most through more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, deforestation and the deterioration of agricultural land and water sources. The COP26 meeting is also critical for workers in carbon industries like gas.

The COP26 Coalition, made up of trade unionists, environmental, faith and justice activists are demanding that workers’ and their families’ lives are not only protected but afforded the dignity and respect we all deserve. Workers in Britain and communities in the global south both need a Just Transition to a zero-carbon economy. This means significantly changing existing industries and providing training for workers to gain new skills. A sustainable and just economy must be a greener economy. The COP26 Coalition believe gas workers must be part of the solution to the climate crisis whilst British Gas are part of the problem.

We send you our solidarity and wish you well in your dispute.

What you can do to support the strike 

Get your organisation, union branch or group to write a letter of solidarity to the striking workers.

Donate to the strike fund
Share the COP26 Coalition Statement 

Like and share our Facebook post

Like and retweet our Twitter post: 

Save Loch Lomond – open letter

In this post Scot.E3 activist Ann Morgan shares the letter she has written to Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair work and Culture. Add your voices to Ann’s.

Loch Lomond by Pete Cannell CC0

Dear Fiona Hyslop, 

I have lived in West Dunbartonshire mostly all my life (I am now retired and live in Govan) and retain links with family, friends and community organisations. I have followed and participated in the Save Loch Lomond campaign.  The campaign currently highlights the possibility of a planning application by Lomond Banks, subsidiary of Flamingo Land and the extension of the exclusivity agreement, effectively excluding alternative community led proposals for the site and for job creation. 

I wish to comment both on the ecological impact on the site and provide examples of sustainable climate jobs.

I do so as a participant in SCOT.E3 (Employment, Energy, Environment) and as a member of Unite the Union (retired members). I am active in a number of local community projects including food -growing and provision and I am keen to share the successes of initiatives with other communities, including the Leamy Foundation /Growing West Dunbartonshire Project. I am not commenting on behalf of these agencies but draw on my research and activism within them to outline objections and alternatives to the proposed developments at the lochside.

The Scottish Government declared a Climate Emergency in April 2019. Emissions reductions targets include reductions of 70% by 2030.  This declaration must be followed by action.

Allan McQuade of Scottish Enterprise, in reference to the proposal, talks of sustainability and syas that the fight against climate change as ‘central to everything we do.’

Action must be two-fold, Protective and proactive.

Protection around biodiversity is of paramount importance. The State of Nature Report (a collaboration between conservation and research organisations) reported in 2019.The report contains the best available data on Scotland’s biodiversity.  Key findings show 49% of species have decreases in abundance with 11% threatened with extinction.  The First Minister in response states that Scotland must lead the way in facing the challenges to biodiversity.

With the above in mind, I request that the cabinet minister considers the impact on biodiversity on the National Park environment. Specifically, on the impact on Drumkinnin Woods within the West Riverside site. This is erroneously referred to as a Brownfield Site.  It is part of the National Park.  The stated aim of the designated Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area.

The proposed development is at odds with the Scottish Government and National Park aims.  The ecological impact would 

  • Endanger wildlife-insects, birds, trees and water species.  Woodlands and rivers are especially vulnerable.
  • The impacts arise from noise, light, traffic emissions and increased pollution. 
  • The above are exacerbated when there is a high concentration of visitors in the one area.  Sustainable Tourism encourages movement, public transport use with rover tickets and electric people carrier hire.  Single car use and enabling by large car parking space must be disincentivised.

The FM also describes in the annual Programme for Government that it is a key aim of the Scottish Government to empower communities.  The retention of the exclusivity agreement contradicts this aim.  Under the Nature Conservation (Scotland)Act 2004 public bodies in Scotland have a duty to further conservation in biodiversity.

My involvement with Scot.E3 has given me insight into the potential for Climate Jobs (see 1 million Jobs pamphlet).  Specific to Scotland a just transition could include advancing regional specific renewables energy, district heating and a programme of retro fitting and new build housing and public building with apprenticeship skills in insulation, joinery, roofing, glazing and heating, linking with schools and further education. My perspective, shared with environmental groups, is that this type of job creation is both more sustainable and career focused than many jobs in the hospitality sector, often minimum waged or even zero hours contracts and seasonal. That said, there are ways to encourage sustainable and responsible tourism with quality training for those seeking careers in the tourism.  It is of concern that the original proposal carried none of these assurances.  Any development with employment opportunities must adhere to the principles outlined in the Fair Work Convention.

Finally, the experience of the pandemic has greatly impacted on local and global tourism. There are scientists, ecologists, biologists, economists and epidemiologists (David Attenborough included) who are warning of future pandemics, with potential of more virulent strains. The current variant is concerning with increased contagion /transmission.

Rob Wallace, evolutionary biologist, charts the link between habitat destruction, biodiversity loss and the increase in zoonotic transmission of infection.  Again, this points to the important of biodiversity protection.  Tourism is of course both impacted by and causal in transmission.  Therefore, a rethink on safety in travel and transit will be required for tourist dependent development.  Linked with emission reduction this presents as an opportunity to put environmental protection as Allan McQuade asserts, central in Scottish Enterprise approval.

The fragility of tourism as well as its importance to the Scottish Economy is recognised. Within this perspective, social justice with environmental integrity is required. 

Yours sincerely 

Annie Morgan 

Decarbonising our heating systems

Leeds TUC’s Environmental sub-committee held a webinar recently on ‘Alternative ways to decarbonise our heating systems’ – the video includes a lot of useful information and some sharp critique of the idea that’ blue hydrogen’ could be a way forward.

Thanks to Les Levidov for the link

Act Now: save lives, save jobs, save the planet

Yesterday saw the publication of ‘Towards a robust, resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland’. The report was written by the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery with a remit to make recommendations to the Scottish Government. As Ben Wray notes in today’s edition of Source Direct the report is strong on buzzwords but devoid of real urgency and concrete proposals. The end of this week is also the deadline for submissions to the Just Transition Commission. As a contribution to this debate we publish the near final draft of Scot.E3’s submission, which makes the case for radical and immediate action on the climate crisis.

Climate Crisis

There has been a yawning gap between the Scottish Government’s rhetoric on the climate crisis and its actions. Vaunted cuts in domestic greenhouse gas emissions are almost entirely attributable to the greening of electricity production and the export of emissions as a result of deindustrialization.   To date the Scottish Government’s actions have failed to measure up to the urgency of the crisis.  

Covid19

However, the impact of Covid19 on society and the economy provides an opportunity to take decisive action.  Job losses in the North Sea oil and gas sector, as a result of the impact on oil and gas prices, are already significant and are increasing rapidly.  There have been layoffs before , however, this time round many analysts are predicting that the sector is unlikely to bounce back.  These redundancies will have a direct additional effect on employment in the supply chain and an indirect effect on local economies, particularly in North East Scotland.  The North Sea is only part of a much larger employment crisis in Scotland that includes tourism, some sectors of manufacturing, education and retail.  

The economic and social dislocation of Covid19 is having a massive impact on the lives and livelihoods of working people in Scotland and across the world.  Attempting to reset the economy to its pre-pandemic state at a time of climate crisis is madness.  Millions of working people will bear the brunt of hardship, unemployment, sickness, stress and anxiety, and precious time to act on a Just Transition to a new sustainable economy will be lost. 

The time to act is now

Many of those being made redundant in Scotland, oil and gas workers, engineers at Rolls Royce, have skills and experience that are needed to develop a new sustainable economy.  They represent a precious resource.  Yet if climate action is deferred, their knowledge and skills will be lost.  Meanwhile, those who have lost their jobs, together with their families, and communities will have repeated the experience of mining communities in the 1980s.   If these workers are not supported now it will be so much harder to win the case that Just Transition is possible.  

Around the world responses to Covid19 have demonstrated that rapid action and mobilisation of human and material resources by governments is possible at a time of crisis.  We suggest that the Commission recommends that the Scottish Government should learn from international responses to the pandemic and tackle the Climate Crisis and ‘recovery’ from the pandemic with the same urgency.

Public information on the nature of the crisis and the policies being adopted will be crucial in winning hearts and minds.  But Just Transition has to go beyond rhetoric – people will not be convinced unless there is clear evidence at every stage that Just Transition is underpinned by actions that have social justice at their heart.   But it should also be based on the premise that while the crisis is global, Scotland has a significant role to play.  We are a country rich in sustainable energy resources.  We have workers with exceptional skills and experience.  We have a historic obligation as part of a British state that contributed massively to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last two centuries.  

Establish a Scottish Climate Service

The JCT Interim report noted that climate action needs to be planned, systemic and coordinated across the whole of the country.  The private sector simply can’t do this, the public sector can.  However, planning requires appropriate infrastructure.  One component of this, the National Investment Bank, is in place – but its role needs to be much expanded.  The mooted State Energy Company, as another supplier in the energy marketplace is inadequate.  It should be replaced by a vertically integrated, publicly run organization that is involved in every aspect of energy; generation, distribution and supply.  The third necessary component is integrated research, education and training, planning, monitoring and evaluation.  Scotland has rich potential in this respect.  The knowledge and creativity from Universities and Colleges, think tanks like Common Weal, unions, workers, communities and climate activists can contribute to a democratic, open and coordinated planning process.  All three components might be seen as part of a Scottish Climate Service.It is perfectly possible to initiate effective action to reduce carbon emissions now.  We have the scientific knowledge and technical expertise.   A great deal of work has already been done on the steps that can be taken immediately.  Our Common Home – Common Weal’s costed blueprint for a Green New Deal for Scotland – is an example.  There will be need for debate and development of the details.   Critically investment should be into technology that exists and that provides solutions that are effective now.  New and unproven technologies like CCS should have a low priority (reversing what seems to be current practice).

Core principles that should underpin recommendations to the Scottish Government

  • End support for maximum economic extraction from the North Sea and begin a managed and rapid phase out of North Sea Oil and Gas through public control of oil and gas production and processing
  • Take INEOS’s Grangemouth facilities into public control
  • No subsidies or compensation for oil and gas companies – they have received super-subsidies for 50 years (see North Sea Taxation report by Juan Carlos Boué)
  • Support the workers who are losing their jobs in the North Sea with guaranteed income and fully funded support for retraining
  • Planning, action and investment for Just Transition should start now – establish a Scottish Climate Service
  • Ensure that social justice is at the heart of transition.  Social justice requires the protection of lives and livelihoods, working with BAME communities to end environmental racism, the creation of a gender equal economy and a focus on further improvement of air pollution in our cities
  • Democracy and accountability – involve energy sector workers, climate activists, workers and communities in the process of building the new sustainable Scottish economy
  • Creation of 100,000+ climate jobs – these are jobs that ensure reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (energy, transport, housing, home insulation, a new smart grid …) and jobs that are neutral with respect to emissions but contribute to health and well-being (care, health, education, recreation, nature conservation, local food production)
  • Ensure the safety of workers in all industries – no one should be penalized for refusing to put themselves in an unsafe working environment
  • A massive expansion in opportunities for education and training in all of the disciplines and skills required for transition – keep full time education free and make part-time education opportunities free for all 
  • Public control over an expanded and integrated free public transport system

Comments on this submission are very welcome as are reactions to the Advisory Group report. Use the contact tab to get in touch.

Not an atom of truth

The supporters of nuclear energy are at it again, attempting to position it as key to a ‘green’ recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and as part of the solution to the climate catastrophe. In this post, first published at www.rs21.org.uk and republished here with permission Scot.E3 activist Brian Parkin exposes the dangerous myths of nuclear power.

Climate of doubt

Nuclear power has made many bold claims on economic viability, safety, reliability and environmental sustainability over the years. Again and again it has been disgraced. But nuclear power is the come-back-kid when it comes to energy technology reincarnation and rebranding. Backed up by state revenues, corporate confidentiality and operational unaccountability, the nuclear industry remains the biggest fraud of the industrial age.

One of the most persistent frauds is the claim that it is the most technologically advanced form of electricity generation available. In fact, the global nuclear inventory is ageing and, as safety fears mount, it delivers ever-decreasing load factors (efficiency) and availability (the amount of time when energy is produced). The industry persistently claims that past operational problems are being resolved with each successive advance in reactor design and waste management improvement. It is forever promising that technological leaps will bring the cost of nuclear-derived power inexorably down.

The advocates of nuclear power now see the current economic and climate crises as an opportunity. Nuclear power still holds onto its reputation as a clean source of energy since it produces neither acid-rain precursors nor COemissions, and does not rely on relatively short-term finite fuel resources. Yet, despite this continually revamped argument, nuclear power cannot address either the prohibitive costs reality nor the safety issues that inevitably arise from an energy source created by fallible humans attempting to harness a power source hotter than the sun. It also hinders rather than advances the path to a low-carbon future.

This article will explain why the periodically disgraced nuclear dream is so dangerous, explain the political power that the industry can mobilise, and resist the arguments of supporters of nuclear power, such as George Monbiot, within the climate movement.

Visit to the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant IAEE Image Bank CC BY-SA 2.0

Proliferation

Today, nuclear power accounts for some 10.5% of all electricity generated worldwide. This power comes from a total of 457 reactors across a total of 31 countries.[1]Initially, the promotion of nuclear power generation was limited to the post-war ‘spheres of influence’ contest between the Soviet Union and the USA that extended their influence via the means of offering client states a various range of infrastructural vanity projects. This arrangement was later complicated by the rift opened up between the USSR and China, mainly in the Indian sub-continent, with India and Pakistan respectively choosing Russia and China as economic allies.

Another factor was the post-war craze for the developing economies (‘Third World’ in the terminology of the time) to obtain sexy totemic technologies that marked their entry into the ‘First World’ via the procurement of mega-projects that gave swagger-power to the various state bureaucracies but little in terms of gross benefits to what remained impoverished populations. This often proved to be the case in countries where gross electricity demand was low and where the necessary distribution and supply networks were near non-existent.

In fact, what these projects did, via the means of fuel-cycle and operational technology, was to increase the subordination of developing states. Any illusions of sovereign security of supply and energy self-sufficiency, printed on the tin of the latest Pressurised Water Reactor[2] or Boiling Water variants, were quickly blown out of the water. Operational ‘teething troubles’, low load factors and poor availabilities left developing states unable to pay off debts acquired throughout the construction, commissioning and life-time operation of reactors that had not been needed in the first place.

Enter the International Energy Agency[3]

Nuclear power relies on the controlled heat energy released by the separation (fission) of the nucleus of an enriched heavy radioactive element, in most cases Uranium235. This process is therefore closely related to that of the uncontrolled fission of a nuclear weapon. With further ‘enrichment’, a totally artificial and radioactive element, Plutonium, can be created: the stuff of thermo-nuclear ‘hydrogen’ bombs. Consequently, it has always been a matter of international concern that civil nuclear programmes may well lead down the road to nuclear arms proliferation.

From its inception in 1956 at Windscale (now Sellafield) in Cumbria, nuclear power in the UK has been driven by the military imperatives of weapons grade material: supporting US missile ambitions, offering a means of repaying the US-UK lend-lease debts, while ensuring that by ownership of a military nuclear programme, that the UK would be ensured a seat on the UN Security Council. In this regard the post-war Labour government was as culpable as successive Tory administrations.[4]

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established in order to promote nuclear power, albeit within a tightly set-down set of protocols policed by the United Nations. However, by this point nuclear weapons ownership had already expanded beyond the post-war Cold War four of the US, USSR, France and the UK to China, India, Pakistan and Israel.[5]

The other IAEA concerns were the standardisation of operating standards, mainly in order to create a safety culture as well as control over the fuel cycle[6] and the manufacture of fuel rods and subsequent ‘waste management’. The latter issue was never satisfactorily resolved either technically or economically. What these arrangements have ensured, though, are techno-dependencies whereby fuel-cycle management has been out-sourced to the wealthier ‘nuclear club’[7] states for fuel manufacture, enrichment and the alchemy of fuel recycling.

Reactor enigma variations: jam tomorrow

Over some 55 years of reactor design and development, little in the way of a standard ‘safe’ reactor consensus has arisen. This is largely due to state-sponsored nuclear competition looking for export opportunities.

Initially, the design of reactors was a military thing. In the case of the US, this meant a Pressurised Water cooled Reactor (PWR), which over time became the dominant and preferred reactor for US power utilities. Elsewhere, designs favoured other means of moderating (slowing down) neutron release via different core materials such as graphite or heavy water, while others favoured different primary heat/cooling cycle systems such as pressurised light (ordinary) water, heavy water[8], gas (usually carbon dioxide) or sodium (liquid salt). But whatever the means, the sole object remains to raise super-heated steam in order to drive a steam turbine in order to produce electricity via an alternator. Whatever the glitz, nuclear power is a steam-age technology.

For over 50 years, nuclear power in its civilian guise has promised clean and infinite energy at a price ‘too cheap to meter’. In every respect, it has failed abysmally: due to impossible engineering challenges, rocketing costs, ever-demanding and failing safety systems and a perpetually irresolvable economic and technical waste management issue. Despite the continual claims that, ‘this time we have really got it right’, there is still no standard and generic design and operational culture.

When this is combined with newer imported costs and construction delays, the consequence has been that nuclear power has never been able to operate in a ‘free’ market, without state subsidies and a skewed regulatory environment.

Meanwhile, epic nuclear ‘incidents’ such as Windscale (now called Sellafield) (1957), Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) have all resulted in massive nuclear releases to the outside environment with melt-downs and huge reactor fires beyond the scope of established safety procedures. With each such incident, the nuclear ‘community’ has had to pause, think and then go into inventive mode regarding another excuse and a massive falsehood regarding the extent of environmental damage and long-term radiological health assessments.

Then, after a respectful moment of silence, this has been followed by another vast PR offensive, garnished with even more Jam Tomorrow.

An energy technology looking for a cause

Nuclear power has met each set-back with a new justification for its existence: security of supply, cheap power, clean power, infinite power and a source of power beyond the control of working class militancy (in the case of the UK, the miners). And at each challenge, a new fall.

But with the realisation of an impending climate catastrophe, the advocates of nuclear finally think that they have a irrefutable case. As nuclear power has no operational COfootprint, it is touted as the environmental answer for clean and sustainable baseload power.[9] They foresee a new and massive worldwide programme of nuclear reactor construction, standardisation and replication costs that will set generating costs on a downwards trajectory.

One persistent argument is that the ‘replication costs savings’[10] would be possible if only the industry world-wide could agree on one generic reactor design that could be used as the architecture for an ongoing sequence of revisions. The new basic stations could be built in line to growing capacity demand and with an actual reduction in capital costs as new orders came on stream. Not so much as jam tomorrow as pie in the sky.

However, such ‘replication savings’ arguments persisted within the UK nuclear cabal up until 1988, where at the Hinkley Point C nuclear inquiry, the UK Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) insisted that the Hinkley Point PWR would be the first-born of a ‘small family’ of UK PWRs.[11] This claim was blown out of the water by evidence submitted by the National Union of Mineworkers.[12]

The nearest thing that an international nuclear agreement has come to is an emerging view that the Pressurised Water Reactor offers the best basic model upon which future reactors should be based. The US Westinghouse (now General Electric) AP100 PWR is now being copied by China as an export model within its developing ‘sphere of influence’. It also forms the basis for technically and economically disastrous ‘third generation’ European PWR (EWR) at Flamanville in Normandy and Olkiuoto in Finland. The EWR is also the reactor of choice for the massive cost and schedule over-running Hinkley Point C project in the UK, and has been accepted as the design favourite for China’s Taishan 1 project which started in December 2018.

A little jam today?

Beyond the third generation of PWRs there are a number of other technical options on offer. Hitherto aimed at big capacity baseload units of reactors with a 1,000 Megawatt plus output, the nuclear industry has been looking at the development of smart grids with response capabilities for inputs from more intermittent small scale units. Within this scenario, smaller and more operationally flexible nuclear reactors are envisaged: the so-called new generation of Small Modular Reactors with capacity sizes down to as small as 10 MWe. Such SMRs could be prefabricated and shoe-horned into existing conventional power station sites.

But even if operationally proved as safe and capable of high load factors, SMRs would hardly contribute much to the capacity need as stated by the advocates of nuclear power. Given that the SMRs will be little more than down-scaled versions of already tried and tested failed reactor designs, there is little reason to expect them to behave over time little better than their bigger grand-parents.

Moreover, funding for nuclear research and development (R&D) drains from the pittance devoted to R&D for renewable energy, and the development large scale storage batteries and disaggregated smart grids which could do so much to create baseload potential for otherwise intermittent and ‘micro’ renewables.

It is a dangerous fantasy to think that nuclear power is best placed to replace fossil fuel power production. According to the International Energy Agency, the installed global power generating capacity as of 2018 was:

Fuel SourceCapacity (TW)
All fossil fuels4.154
All renewables, including:1.278
Wind 0.515
Solar0.387
Hydro0.166
Geo-thermal0.130
Tidal/wave0.180
Nuclear0.354

Statistics compiled and amended by Dr T. Wang, Statista, 3 December 2019

Meanwhile, of non-renewable fuel sources, in terms of total % global electrical power consumed:

Non-renewable fuel source% total global electrical power consumed (2017-18)
Coal41
Natural gas22
Nuclear10.5
All other26.5

IEA World Energy Outlook 2019.

The projection of a 65% nuclear capacity to replace all fossil fuel power plant by 2040 does not just mean the replacement of all existing carbon power generation. It also means an immediate programme for replacing all existing nuclear power plants, two thirds of which will be due for end-of-life decommissioning within the next five to ten years anyway. With no standardised reactor type and operational culture, this would mean 65% of global power generating capacity depending on a variety of plant designs for which no commercial insurability safety assurance will be possible.

Then there is the issue of waste management. Given a present 10.5% global nuclear power generation with no waste management consensus, a capacity increase of six times over presents the stuff of nightmares.

Waste management

The problem of waste recovery, recycling and long-term management (storage) has so far proved insoluble for the nuclear industry. The industry adopted wet storage – large underground cooling pools – pending proper technical waste management. This was meant to be a temporary solution, but it is still used to this day.

In the mid-1970s, the UK BNFL declared a worldwide solution with the development of a Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) to be built at Sellafield in Cumbria. But dogged with a continuous string of technical problems, as well as very real doubts as to the safety of the Thermal Oxide process, the THORP project with a bill in excess of £5 billion was scrapped in 1989. THORP contracts worth many billions of dollars were force majeured, and nuclear states such as Canada, France, Japan and Sweden were asked to take their waste back home.

According to a 2019 report, some 250,000 tonnes of highly radioactive spent fuel material is in wet storage in some 14 countries awaiting a waste storage solution that will never come.[13] Meanwhile, some 2 billion tonnes of uranium mining ‘tailings’ and process waste remain untreated and with no treatment or financial liabilities settlements in sight.

This is the legacy for future generations that 65 years of nuclear folly has bequeathed. Long-life and long half-life waste radioactive elements, isotopes and their ‘daughter’ products that will last further into the future that human civilisation has taken to reach this moment.

Conclusion

Virtually all of the statistical information referenced above was compiled before the present Covid-19 pandemic. It also predates another global economic event: a growing global recession that has so far been eclipsed by the immediate public health disaster. Such pandemics are, like recessions, treated as natural forces: events beyond the comprehension and control of mere mortals like the ‘rational self-interested actor’, much beloved by liberal economists.

Statistics based on real and reliable evidence make projections rooted in a status quo, which itself presumes business as usual. From such vulgar assumptions, trends are discernible and tendencies towards increasing capital accumulation, urbanisation and population growth can be factored in as verities based on a dismal human condition, unfettered population growth and the persistence of the rule of capital and the inevitability of capricious markets.

Against such projections the IEA and an ever-predatory World Nuclear Association now draw on the undeniable probability of worst-case climate catastrophe to create a new age for nuclear power need. So from a current 10.5% of nuclear generated power, we have to envisage a COabated 2040 where nuclear power will provide 62% of electricity.[14] This means that 70% of all currently operating reactors will have been replaced and that every 40 years or so, all reactor capacity will have to have been renewed.

This means that forever, humanity will have to exist on the brink of a barely containable climate threat, and a source of dangerous energy at barely affordable prices for the bulk of the global population- and that forever, the deceptive alchemy of waste management will remain the radioactive legacy for generations to come. Such a projection is both hopeless and apocalyptic. It offers an eternity of business worse than usual, and it offers a totally fraudulent scenario.

Furthermore, it denies the human capacities of both hope and redemption through struggle. It denies the organised agency of a proletarian class that by 2009 (by UN estimates) had already come to comprise over 52% of the world’s population. Statistical apologists for capitalism and its compendium of various barbaric imperialist scenarios may interpret the world in many ways, but it still remains the role of a revolutionary working class to change it. For the better.

Notes

[1] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report 2019.

[2] The PWR and BWR reactor types use ‘light’- ordinary water in the primary and secondary cooling cycles.

[3] The IAEA was set up as an ‘independent’ agency in 1957 for the promotion of ‘Atoms for Peace’. It is located in Vienna and has 171 member states. It reports to both the UN general and Security Councils.

[4] Former Secretary of State for Energy Tony Benn in his statement of case for the NUM at the Hinkley Point Inquiry, went on to describe the UK Magnox reactors as little more than ‘bomb factories’.

[5] Israel is neither a member state of the IEA nor a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

[6] The ‘fuel cycle’ covers the process of mining Uranium or to the manufacture of nuclear fuel and its waste ‘management’.

[7] The so-called ‘Nuclear Club’ presently comprises Argentina, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, S Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Ukraine, UK and US.

[8] Heavy water is water with a molecule of oxygen plus two isotopes of deuterium- a hydrogen ‘heavy’ isotope with two electrons as opposed to the usual one.

[9] Baseload power is electricity from a reliable round-the-clock source not subject to daily or seasonal interruption.

[10] ‘Replication savings’ are the economic benefits arising from series production: i.e. the ‘economies of scale’. In the UK such replication benefits were promised with the Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) which now make up all but one of the UK nuclear inventory. In this case the ‘savings’ ended up as double the original project cost.

[11] The 1986-89 Hinkley Point Inquiry was for an original proposal involving a Westinghouse Type AP100 PWR. The present Hinkley Point project presently taking place is based on an Areva/EdF European PWR (EWR).

[12] NUM Proof of Evidence. Parkin et al. Hinkley Point C public inquiry. Proof denied on grounds of ‘misappropriation’ of confidence and ‘purloining’ of information.

[13] P. Roche et al. The Global Crisis of Nuclear Waste (Greenpeace France, 30 January 2019).

[14] World Nuclear Association. World Energy Review December 2019.