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Opinion

Has the nuclear lobby hijacked Welsh democracy?

25 Feb 2024 6 minute read
Outfall from Wylfa Power Station. Photo Anonymous is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Robat Idris

A sadly but unsurprising travesty of democracy slid out of Cardiff Bay with the release of the Senedd’s Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee report on “Nuclear Energy and the Welsh Economy” on 21st February.

As a case study in lobbying power, it is surely worthy of inclusion in the Hall of Infamy.

Its recommendations could have been written by the nuclear lobby itself, rather than by our democratically elected Senedd Members.

Despite the collapse of the Wylfa project in 2019, all of the recommendations enthusiastically back the case for nuclear, with a plea to the UK Government to get on with the job.  Einstein reportedly said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. 

Informed voices

If we are to have a credible Senedd, and a real democracy, then it is crucial that informed voices are heard.

This report, pandering to the self-interest of denizens of the nuclear village, merely reinforces the view that politics is about kowtowing to powerful corporate interests.

Meanwhile Cymru bleeds while real and credible solutions to energy and jobs exist.

The blurb preceding the report assures us that: “The Welsh Parliament is the democratically elected body that represents the interests of Wales and its people”.  Yet this Committee took oral evidence from nine pro-nuclear individuals, and written evidence from six pro-nuclear organisations, and none from any individual or organisation having an anti-nuclear or indeed a sceptical view.

The rationale for this appears to be that the terms of reference deliberately chose not to include other voices:

“The terms of reference for this one-day inquiry were to consider the potential economic impact of new nuclear developments in north Wales, how to maximise local employment and benefits to local or Wales-based supply chains of new nuclear projects, and the challenges posed by skills shortages and how to overcome them. By its nature the inquiry did not examine the pros and cons of nuclear energy itself, but recognised its place in an overall energy security strategy and net zero targets.”

Apparently the only relevant voices are those backing nuclear.

The committee’s duty is to the people of Cymru, and not to the nuclear industry, or to the desire of the UK to remain a nuclear armed state.

Balanced view

As should be apparent if the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is taken seriously.  This is such a vital matter that evidence should be given to the committee which would enable its members to form a fully informed and balanced view on nuclear energy.

Why wasn’t evidence sought from experts and interested parties on such questions as:

  • why new nuclear may never happen.
  • why nuclear can’t be built in time to influence climate change.
  • why should Cymru support civil nuclear when the UK Government admits its intrinsic links with military nuclear weapons capability?
  • why should such reliance be placed on the voices of an industry which consistently fails to deliver on cost and on time?
  • why should Cymru accept nuclear when renewable energy technology can provide 100% of our energy needs?
  • why should Ynys Môn and Gwynedd become a nuclear dump to satisfy the needs of the nuclear industry and the UK state?
  • why should we believe that the effects on language, culture, biodiversity can be mitigated?
  • why have an influx of workers at a time when housing is a major issue for local people, when the NHS is on the point of collapse, when council services are creaking?
  • why does the Welsh Government not acknowledge that nuclear is in retreat globally?

It’s time to recognise that the priority for Cymru is to look to our own natural resources for energy and job solutions.  If fully harnessed, offshore wind has the potential to provide double our energy needs.

And why don’t our Senedd Members look critically at the companies which gave evidence?

  • In 2020 the American company Bechtel had to pay (with another company) $57.5 million to the US Department of Justice for irregularities at the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant (Hanford is considered to be the most toxic nuclear waste facility in the US). In 2008 it had to pay (with another company) $407 million to the state and federal governments to settle litigation over leaky tunnels and a fatal ceiling collapse in the Boston Big Dig project.
  • Rolls-Royce make the nuclear engines for Trident submarines which carry nuclear weapons. The company has publicly stated that there are synergies between the civil and military nuclear industries.  Its Small Modular Reactor Design is unlicenced and unproven, and as for being small, it is at 470 MW twice the size of the old Trawsfynydd reactors.  Rolls-Royce’s new CEO Tufan Erginbilgic described the company as a “burning platform” as 2.500 job cuts were announced in 2023.

Caught up amongst the corporate and academic behemoths, Ynys Môn council leader Llinos Medi inherited the poisoned chalice of support for nuclear from her predecessors.  Like many of us on Ynys Môn, she has a burning desire for our youngsters to have a future locally, and for the language to thrive.

Can she be persuaded that another, better, way can be found?

The Council’s support for a future project at Wylfa is “based on confirmation that the development is sustainable and that it should not be at the expense of the island’s communities”.   Nowhere on the globe is nuclear sustainable, and communities worldwide have paid the price.  Not only in Chernobyl and Fukushima, but in many countries where uranium is mined and land, water and workers are poisoned.

On Saturday 16th March PAWB (People Against Wylfa B), backed by other concerned organisations, is holding an open meeting called “Green Revolution – Opportunity Knocks” to open minds to the possibilities of truly sustainable economic and community growth in Ynys Môn and Gwynedd.  Perhaps members of the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs  Committee should attend!

Robat Idris is a member of PAWB.  He is also vice-chair of Cymdeithas y Cymod, member of CND Cymru and past chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith.  He contributed a chapter on “Atomic Wales” in “The Welsh Way”.


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Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson
4 months ago

One-party state committee produces one-sided report. Get Nuclear Out!

Annibendod
Annibendod
4 months ago

Hollol cytuno â ti Robat. Cymru has no need of it. We have enough renewable resources to power the nation many times over. We have the mineral wealth to build electrical energy storage solutions. Thekind of development proposed is also of a colonialist economy as is all inward investment. Something plonked in our communities from outside. We should be growing community based ventures. Only through co-ownership will we be able to retain wealth and provide an income in a world that is increasingly automated. I look at ynni Ogwen as the sort of venture that should be common practice.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
4 months ago

I find the nuclear lobby are similar to the pro-gun lobby of America. They are fanatical. And even if the people of Wales and their elected representatives in our Senedd Cymru rejected nuclear power in favour of renewables, undemocratic Whitehall would ignore our democratic elected government’s opposition by forcing through any infrastructure build because the Tories can. Also, it’s highly likely that ministers in the UK Government have themselves financial interest in any proposed project built l, including those lobbyists who are possible donors to the Conservative party coffers and as a reward would receive knighthoods & damehoods in the… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
4 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

There are Labour Party members in Wales who work in the nuclear industry – apologists for a deeply dubious industry. You’ll find them promoting nuclear energy via their social media accounts.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago

That is a good question, I can’t think of any politician on Ynys Mon who is not totally onboard with it…

RR, the Rolls Royce of bribes and back-handers, there must be a few living in hope…

I don’t believe the locals were asked their opinion…

The idea seemed to grip Gething…

Didn’t Welsh Gov set up Cwmni Egino to profit from it…

Last edited 4 months ago by Mab Meirion
Richard Davies
Richard Davies
4 months ago

The risks associated with nuclear power far outweigh any benefits!

Charles
Charles
4 months ago

Nuclear power NO! Not in Wales or the World.

Jonathan Dean
Jonathan Dean
4 months ago

The Electricity System Operator published data a couple of years back showing offshore wind alone is sufficient to get Wales to net zero twice over – that includes capacity to make hydrogen for when the wind doesn’t blow

This maybe awkward.
This maybe awkward.
4 months ago

Very good points until this one only because I think he is insincere:
why have an influx of workers at a time when housing is a major issue for local people, when the NHS is on the point of collapse, when council services are creaking?
Unless the writer (considering the overlap between anti-nuclear and left wing, with the left wing being pro Immigration) is anti- immigration normally this is will be very hypocritical. They would probably call anyone who says this racist in any other circumstance.

Mandi A
Mandi A
4 months ago

People on the island and beyond have been campaigning for years to save Penrhos Nature Reserve from Land & Lakes developers. One of L&L justifications for their chalet town was to house workers at the new Wylfa. Penrhos is about 10 miles from the Wylfa site.

This maybe awkward.
This maybe awkward.
4 months ago
Reply to  Mandi A

You didn’t read the comment properly. It is a valid argument if you are anti- immigration normally because that statement is true of all of the UK and most of the world in all honesty. However, there is a large overlap between anti- nuclear people and the green party which is pro Immigration. So I fully expect the writer to be supportive of helping refugees reach Britain by dingy as opposed to calling for the Royal Navy to sink them (exaggerationbut you get the point). So, if this person is pro Immigration normally but anti Immigration in this context then… Read more »

Philip Owen
Philip Owen
4 months ago

Nimbyism at its finest. Democracy is not about giving way to NIMBYs especially people trying to conflate civil nuclear power with bombs. The anti nuclear movement distorted teh truth so much that even Geroge Monbiot changed sides. (So did I in the 1970s after being a cofounder of Friends of the Earth network in the UK in 1971). CND actvists hijacked civil power for their own ends. Bombs and reactors are different things. CND preys on your fears. France ignored their activists and has had 40 years of cheap, clean energy. Now refurbishment is allowed (a few worn out plants… Read more »

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
4 months ago
Reply to  Philip Owen

You are wrong, nuclear power is not safe. There have been at least 99 accidents at nuclear power stations between 1952 and 2009, a number of them as bad as Chernobyl.

Plutonium used in nuclear bombs can, and is, produced in nuclear reactors that are used to generate electricity.

The fuel rods can go through re-processing , but it can take decades, centuries even, to safely clean up contamination when reactors are decommissioned. At Sellafield (formerly Windscale) they will be cleaning up well into 2100s!

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_power_accidents_by_country

https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/mar/14/nuclear-power-plant-accidents-list-rank

https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/brief-history-nuclear-accidents-worldwide

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-13047267

This maybe awkward.
This maybe awkward.
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Just curious What’s your opinion on fusion if it could be done?
The waste materials are safe and unable to be weaponised. So are you anti nuclear full stop or just anti fission (granted fission is the only type of nuclear power we have).
Personally i would support fusion when it is possible, i also think fission is a bad idea because of our inability to dispose of nuclear waste that has a half life greater than our ability to warn future people about the waste areas.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
4 months ago

Fusion does appear to be a safe option, I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest any of the risks that are inherent with fission.

On that basis I would say I’m anti fission.

Philip Clive Owen
Philip Clive Owen
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

28+3 firemen died at Chernobyl from exposure to very high radiation levels at the core. 15 people and there will be no more, died of thyroid cancer. Here is a link https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/195618/we-should-have-less-fear-radiation/#:~:text=Twenty%20eight%20people%20died%20as,on%20fertility%20or%20infant%20mortality. The report you refer to is dominated by failures common in process plants like leaky pipes and cranes falling on people. Of the two fatal accidents attributal to process problems, the Idaho Falls reactor was not a civilian power plant but a US Army Research reactor, one of a kind. The other was a ruptured steam pipe. The reactor involved shut down automatically and safely as it detected… Read more »

Jim1
Jim1
4 months ago
Reply to  Philip Owen

There is another factor to consider regarding wind turbines. Some projections for the effects of climate change include an average fall in global wind speeds (“global stilling”) of up to 10%, including over the UK. That may not sound too drastic, however, a fall of 10% in speed could equate to a fall of around 20-30% of energy generated due to turbine efficiencies and kinetic energy of the airflow . That would throw the viability of any wind farm or the fabled hydrogen economy into doubt…..unless electricity prices went any further skyward. It is clear a substantial backup to wind… Read more »

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim1

Since 2010 global wind speeds have increased, going from average 7 mph to 7.4 mph in under a decade.

Between 1970s & 2000s it had slowed.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-worlds-winds-are-speeding-up/

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

There are scientists that say in the medium term there is too much variability to make accurate predictions and then say predictions for further into the future suggest slowing down of wind. Only there is no indication as to whether or not these models incorporate any mitigation of climate change itself.

https://e360.yale.edu/features/global-stilling-is-climate-change-slowing-the-worlds-wind

Jim1
Jim1
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

My concern is that wind and to some extent solar are being sold to us as a golden panacea when in reality there is no certainty as to their future viability. Whilst a lot of research and trials are progressing into other renewable sources and ccs, the lack of any real alternative that is ready to bring to scale is a probable reason for this hard sell.

Philip Clive Owen
Philip Clive Owen
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim1

Here is a screenshot of UK generation from https://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/. At the beginning of 2023 the UK had 27 GW of wind capacity installed. You will observe that from Mid April to mid September, it barely delivered 5 GW on a good day. This is why wind advocaes are careful to quote availabiltiy factors that average over a year. Most years mid September to mid October is quiet too. 2023 was exceptionally windy then. Solar output despite with 15 GW installed, is too low to even be worth charting on this image and that’s in the summer. There is a separate… Read more »

Screenshot-2024-03-02-184200
Jim1
Jim1
4 months ago

Thanks for the really interesting link to Gridwatch and what a worrying state of reality it shows. What it immediately demonstrates (correct me if I read it wrong) is how reliant the UK is on imported power via the interconnectors to balance demand to available domestic generation. That could suggest there is little spare capacity for battery storage or water electrolysis for hydrogen to cover lean periods, even if the infrastructure was available. As you point out, the best sites for wind have already been taken (‘low hanging fruit picked first’ is the often used term) so the economics of… Read more »

Jim1
Jim1
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim1

I expect Philip you will be familiar with the website Our Finite World and the author Gail Tverberg ( ourfiniteworld.com ) Some probably find her too much of a doomsayer but I believe her scepticism over renewable energy viability and the relationship between debt and energy procurement / net energy is well placed. Basically she rejects the idea that renewables can ever replace the ‘oil age’ in supporting a similar complex society. I feel she has it about right.

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