Climate Change, Nuclear Power and Democracy
Monday saw Ed Milliband make public plans to overhaul the UK energy system. Whilst the plan includes an overhaul of renewables and coal fired power perhaps the most controversial aspect of this overhaul is the emphasis being placed on nuclear energy generation. A new generation of 10 nuclear plants has been proposed which could provide up to 40% of the UK’s energy by 2025. This will be “the most ambitious fleet of new nuclear reactors in Europe” according to the Guardian. This overhaul, according to Labour, has been designed to address the twin problems of climate change and energy security.
There are two interesting aspects to this development, one specific to nuclear energy production and the second, a broader point with regards to capitalist regulation.
1) The first development is the return of nuclear onto the political agenda. The case against nuclear will have to be made yet again, unproven reactor designs, long lasting, lethal waste, adverse health effects in surrounding area’s and the energy intensive and environmental impacts of extraction (quote) and refinement all make the case for nuclear far from straightforward. Although the nuclear debate has receded over previous years, and has certainly not remained as prominent within both society and radical circles as in Germany (link), it is interesting seeing the nuclear debate re-emerge, this time organised around its relationship to climate change.
2) As important as the re-emergence of the nuclear debate, this time organised around the theme of climate change, also of interest is the way in which this policy will be implemented. In order to avoid the political conflict, euphemistically labelled as “torturous decisions” by Milliband, which appears likely, the planning process will be streamlined for large energy producing infra-structure. This will make objections to the development of these new generators very difficult. This anti-democratic policy is, unbelievably, being justified as being necessary, with regards to climate change, for us all. It’s worth quoting Milliband in full
“The threat of climate change means we need to make a transition from a system that relies heavily on high-carbon fossil fuels, to a radically different system that includes nuclear, renewable and clean coal power. The current planning system is a barrier to this shift. It serves neither the interests of energy security, the interests of the low-carbon transition, nor the interests of people living in areas where infrastructure may be built, for the planning process to take years to come to a decision”.
This is yet another example of an anti-democratic trend running throughout contemporary society. This has been discussed in Colin Crouch’s 2004 book post-democracy, and can be seen buttressing the arguments of post-political theorists such as Jacques Ranciere and is, according to Zizek, an emerging tendency vital for regulating increasingly crisis ridden processes of accumulation. What is interesting in this specific case is the already mentioned justification of this process through the spectre of catastrophic climate change. Indeed George Monbiot has come out in support of nuclear on the basis of its carbon to energy ratio whilst staying silent with regards to the removal of democracy from the decision.
It will be interesting to see if and where opposition will emerge. Earth First has already mentioned this in there most recent action update and local campaigns will also, presumably, emerge. However, it is the position of climate change movements which appears least predictable. These developments ask the climate movement some difficult questions with regards to its relationship with the state and position on carbon. Will this policy be endorsed as necessary for solving climate change (with its “democratic streamlining” being lamented as a necessary evil), or critiqued as a false solution which needs to be resisted? In order for a coherent opposition to develop the fixation upon carbon, seen in many parts of the climate movement, must also be critiqued. By placing themselves in opposition to the nuclear option, climate change movements would be placing themselves in conflict with discourses fixated upon carbon. This would, obviously, bring out some of the tensions inherent within the climate change movement.
Political discussion, and dare I say it, the possibility for conflict within the climate change movement… surely not!