Comment: Silence on Hinkley speaks volumes

Cameron and Hollande's failure to make a statement is a sign that the project has failed

 

Labour’s decision to push for Plan B if or when the new Hinkley C nuclear reactor falls through coincided with what, on first inspection appears, to be a non-news story: the meeting between Prime Minister Cameron and French President François Hollande at which no announcement on Hinkley was made.

A statement in which the two countries restated ‘the crucial role of nuclear energy’ and how operational risks have ‘been fine-tuned’ was eventually forthcoming, but the absence of any formal announcement is in a sense the news story.

Given the amount of political capital invested in Hinkley we were never going to have a formal announcement that the scheme had failed. The closest we were ever going to get to that was a high level meeting between the UK and France; two countries who have much at stake.

Cameron because he has gambled the UK’s future energy supply on nuclear and has been kowtowing to the Chinese for cash, and François Hollande because the mainly state-owned EDF is, or was, planning to build the reactors at Hinkley. So the absence of any announcement on Hinkley following the meeting speaks volumes and I am ready to put the champagne on ice.

Labour’s call for a Plan B is to be welcomed. The Party may not have the same principled opposition to nuclear as the Greens but they have perhaps realised the project makes no economic sense.

The costs of the electricity are so high as to make the project unfeasible, there are no investors with the commitment and economic viability to put the finance together and EU competition rules make the financial support necessary illegal. In short the deal can never be done.

Perhaps though, Labour’s plan should be called Plan C because, as MEP for the region in which Hinkley would be built, I know Plan B already exists. For almost a year now I have been pushing an alternative plan based on 100 per cent of our energy needs being met by renewables. Or perhaps it should be called Plan U, as this is clearly a dramatic U-turn for Labour on nuclear.

Labour’s support for nuclear power, and Hinkley C in particular, was always based on the long held view by leading unions that nuclear was the best way to create jobs. This view was never backed up by research, which shows clearly that the renewables industry creates far more jobs per kilowatt hour generated than nuclear ever can.

My own plan – yes, Plan B – shows that a renewable energy revolution in the South West could generate 122,000 new high quality jobs. This is precisely why, in Germany, some of the largest unions have supported green energy policies

The consequence of putting all our radioactive eggs into one basket is that we are now left with insufficient energy to meet our needs in the medium term; our political reputation in tatters; electricity prices so high that businesses are at risk; lives threatened through fuel poverty; and an energy policy that is illogical and senseless.

There is a simple lesson from this moral tale: beware Prime Ministers arriving in your backyard, propped up by powerful friends and announcing that a vast investment is coming your way.

We live in a world constrained by law and governed by technical and financial realities. The failure of Hinkley proves that rhetoric has its limitations and politicians are sometimes less powerful than they like to portray themselves.

Part of the reason the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have for too long got away with their ridiculous hubristic behaviour over Hinkley has been the failure of proper scrutiny over a decision with such huge impacts on our future.

Where were the investigative journalists? Where was the challenge to this impossible white elephant? A weak and divided opposition and faltering media system demonstrates not only the failings of a democratic constitution but also the ease with which really bad decisions can be made without fear of adequate scrutiny. 

If Labour have belatedly realised that scrutinising such a dodgy policy is an important part of being in opposition, then I am happy to scrutinise their Plan C or Plan U on Hinkley. I hope in return they will also take a look at my Plan B.

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West of England

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