The British government has given the green light for a nuclear plant that is set to be the first new British nuclear station in a generation, the first in Europe since the Fukushima meltdown, and the first ever in Europe to be guaranteed state backing. Critics are slamming this development as a monumental step backwards at precisely the moment the ongoing Fukushima crisis is exposing the human and environmental costs of nuclear power.
"This is an extraordinary effort to keep nuclear in the mix," said Damon Moglen, spokesperson for Friends of the Earth, in an interview with Common Dreams. "The British government is acting out of a 20th century mentality, not a 21st century mentality."
The British government and the French state-controlled EDF group announced Monday that they are moving forward with plans to build a new plant—Hinkley Point C plant—next to existing plants in southwest England. Two Chinese companies, China General Nuclear Corporation and China National Nuclear Corporation, will also be major investors with 30-40 percent stakes.
At a price tag of £16 billion, or $26 billion, energy consumers and British taxpayers will bear most of the cost of the government's long-term commitment to the nuclear plant, which is not slated for completion until 2023. As part of the deal, the UK government is guaranteeing a price of up to £92.50, or $150, per megawatt-hour, which is over two times the current market rate.
"The British nuclear industry has been dirty, destructive, polluting, and damaging to the environment and public health for decades in Britain," Moglen said. "The idea that we are going to turn a corner on that history by outsourcing the industry and asking the rate payer to pay twice as much for nuclear power is laughable."
British Prime Minister David Cameron declared that the deal signals a "kick-start" to the British nuclear industry, stating, "This is a very big day for our country: the first time we've built a new nuclear power station for a very long time."
Yet, critics say it spells out a dark future for a generation of consumers.
"It will lock a generation of consumers into higher energy bills, via a strike price that’s nearly double the current price of electricity, and it will distort energy policy by displacing newer, cleaner, technologies that are dropping dramatically in price," declared Greenpeace UK Executive Director John Sauven in a statement emailed to Common Dreams. He cited wind and solar power as more efficient and environmentally-friendly alternatives.
Critics charge that industry influence in government is keeping nuclear alive against the best interests of the British people and environment.
"The nuclear industry has captured the government," writes Damian Carrington in the Guardian. "Don't forget that just 48 hours after the Fukushima catastrophe, government officials were working with the industry to play down the terrible events - before they had even unfolded."
Critics also warn there is no viable plan in place to deal with nuclear waste. “Britain is completely in a dither about trying to deal with its nuclear waste problem," Moglen told Common Dreams. "The idea that when you have no idea how to address nuclear waste you are going to build more plants and expect the public to pay even more money is ridiculous."
Moglen said he is confident that the people of Britain will not take this development lying down. "There is a history and tradition of environmental protest in Britain," he said."I think this will be greeted with strong and long-term opposition."