THE unfolding saga of the proposed nuclear power station, Hinkley Point C in Somerset, reached a new level of farce late on Thursday when the French-owned energy company EDF unexpectedly decided by a narrow vote of its ruling board to go ahead with financing it.
EDF’s UK chief executive was then dispatched in a limo to Somerset to sign off the deal with the Tory government but in the event it was a wasted trip. Representatives from China General Nuclear, which is bankrolling a third of the gigantic cost of building the plant, were also on the way to the signing and also returned home.
At the last moment, the Tories, who under Cameron had been pushing for the station as the only way of keeping the lights on in the country, got cold feet and refused to sign. Instead, they have called for yet another review of the controversial project.
Nothing expresses the sheer bankruptcy of British capitalism more than this long-running project, and May’s comical about-turn. Building a gigantic nuclear power station which Labour and the Tories claimed was essential to meet the energy needs of Britain at a massive cost of £18 billion – costs that are predicted to rise out of control given the untried and untested nature of the build – was simply too much for British capitalism.
They were forced to go cap-in-hand to the French EDF, 80% owned by the French state, and to the Chinese government for the money. In return, they were prepared to enter into a deal that would guarantee the profits of EDF and China by agreeing subsidies from the British taxpayer estimated to be £30 billion.
Despite this massive subsidy, the board of EDF was split over going ahead, with two directors resigning on the grounds that the whole project was ‘very risky’ and would end up bankrupting the company. French trade unions were also against the deal arguing that it would collapse EDF and cost hundreds of thousands of French workers their jobs.
The final vote to go ahead was ten to seven. This came as a shock to May, who seems to have been relying on EDF to pull the plug on the enterprise that would push the bankrupt British economy over the fiscal cliff. She was forced to call a halt at the last minute.
May’s decision has driven the TUC into a frenzy with its general secretary Frances O’Grady declaring: ‘This is not the right signal to send to investors after the Brexit vote. Our economy needs certainty, not vacillation.’
No mention here of the dangers of nuclear power stations, despite the disaster at Fukushima in Japan in 2011 that is predicted to lead to incidents of cancers related to radiation poisoning for decades to come.
More important for the TUC is sending the right message to capitalist investors. With the failure of renewable energy sources to come anywhere near to meeting energy needs, the one glaring alternative is coal. The British coal industry was shut down by Tories under Thatcher in her war to smash the trade union by taking on the miners.
Thatcher argued that the country did not need coal, it could rely on North Sea gas, which has run out, or imported oil, just as polluting as coal. In fact, coal (the most abundant energy resource in Britain) is, due to scientific advances, a relatively ‘clean’ source of energy.
China’s first power plant designed from scratch to capture carbon is scheduled to open in 2016; called GreenGen it will on estimate capture 80% of its emissions. This points the way forward to meet the energy crisis, but it is one that bankrupt British capitalism can never take, for it entails the re-organisation of energy supplies, the expropriation of their current owners, and the re-opening of an industry along with its workers that they still hate and fear.
The only force capable of the re-organisation of society along the lines that is being demanded by the requirements of the productive forces is the working class. It will do this after taking power from the capitalists through a socialist revolution and then expropriating the bankers and the bosses to bring in a planned socialist economy that will plan and organise production, including the supply of clean energy, as required by society as a whole.