This morning the government approved plans to construct a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset. The power station is expected to cost around £18 billion, with £12 billion provided by EDF, which is partially owned by the French government, and the remaining £6 billion of investment from CGN, which is totally owned by the Chinese government. The irrationality of this situation is clearly on display with the intervention of foreign governments, but the cost is also too much. The government should not have approved this deal, and should have instead mandated investment in small-scale renewables rather than monolithic structures distant from communities.
Many critics of the Hinkley Point nuclear plant make references to the threat of meltdowns and the dangers that this could bring. I don’t tend to focus on these concerns because the regulations on nuclear power plants are such that meltdowns are incredibly unlikely. The opposition to nuclear power should primarily be focused on empowering communities (pun intended).
The broad philosophical question here is about control. Who should control and operate the electricity generated in the UK? Personally I don’t believe that foreign governments should have any influence over key strategic resources, but the question is not only about governments. Local communities should have control over their own energy resources. Communities know what they need when it comes to energy consumption. A government department in Whitehall is not going to be able to reasonably understand the energy needs of a rural community in South Yorkshire. At the very least the energy market should be state-owned, but the real solution is community ownership.
The financial aspect of this is also crucial. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) has calculated that the cost of constructing Hinkley Point could power a much larger number of homes if the same amount was invested in solar power. Specifically, the NEF have said that over the course of the power station’s life the UK government will have to spend £30 billion on subsidies. Hinkley Point is expected to power around 1.9 million homes, but if the money spent on subsidizing the plant was spent on solar power, the number of homes powered would be close to 2.8 million.
The decision by the government is clearly the wrong one and is a wasted opportunity to put communities at the heart of electricity generation.Nuclear power does not lend itself to community ownership and it should be scrapped. Further, the finances could be better spent to create a low-carbon energy grid without having to rely on non-renewables like nuclear power. As well as these practical reasons I stand by the philosophical principle that foreign governments shouldn’t be involved in key industries. The neoliberalism of Thatcher remains in this area and should be diregarded. The British state should be the only government involved in this area and private companies shouldn’t be allowed to profiteer off of this vital public good. Communities need to have control.