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Nuclear power trumps democracy

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Donnachadh McCarthy − former Deputy Chair of the Liberal Democrats (UK) and founder of the environmental consultancy 3 Acorns Eco-audits

Why is our democracy failing to tackle the horrific urgency of the climate crisis and the decimation of our eco-systems? And why are all the main political parties betting the farm on nuclear power in spite of its madhouse economics − and against all their promises to either oppose nuclear power altogether, or to refuse subsidies for it?

In my new book, 'The Prostitute State − How Britain's Democracy Has Been Bought', I set out my view that there is a single problem at the root of our nation's difficulties. A corporate elite have hijacked the pillars of Britain's democracy. The production of thought, the dissemination of thought, the implementation of thought and the wealth arising from those thoughts, are now controlled by a tiny, staggeringly rich elite. As a result the UK is no longer a functioning democracy but has become a 'Prostitute State' built on four pillars: a corrupted political system, a prostituted media, a perverted academia and a thieving tax-haven system. This has disastrously resulted in a flood of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the top 1%. This stolen wealth is built on the destruction of the planet's ecosystems, which are essential for humanity's survival.

Nuclear power defeats democracy
The reversal of government policy on nuclear power is a classic example of how the Prostitute State trumps democracy. Betrayed environmental activists must understand that − notwithstanding the noble form of democratic structures − what they are really up against is a corrupt corporate state.
The concept of lobbying is reasonably well known, but few of us understand how far lobbying has penetrated and hijacked the political parties themselves. For example, most people are perplexed at how the nuclear industry managed to persuade the UK's previous Labour government to build a fleet of hugely expensive experimental nuclear power stations on land prone to flooding from rising sea levels. They also struggle to comprehend and why Labour's shadow energy and climate change minister, Caroline Flint MP, having stated that she would only support nuclear power if built without public subsidies, now supports the £15−20 billion subsidy package for Hinkley C nuclear power station. Labour managed this policy U-Turn despite the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear catastrophes; the failure to find safe waste-disposal sites capable of protecting radioactive waste for over 100,000 years; and insurance companies' point blank refusal to provide nuclear accident insurance.

It's the money, stupid
My simple answer is that the nuclear industry has poured millions of pounds year after year into a massive political lobbying campaign. They bought a whole swathe of senior ex-politicians to work as nuclear lobbyists, spent a fortune on trying to manipulate public opinion through media and advertising, and even funded school trips to their nuclear plants. As they managed to persuade a Labour government to abandon their 1997 election manifesto commitment to oppose new nuclear power stations, it is crucial to understand how deeply the nuclear lobby is embedded in the Labour party. My personal belief is that a complex web of financial interests ensured that the Labour government served the nuclear industry − no matter what Labour party members or the British public wanted.

Just consider for example the following list of Labour Party politicians:

  • Former Energy Minister Brian Wilson became a non-executive director of Amec Nuclear, a client of BNFL, a nuclear operator.
  • Former Energy Minister Helen Liddell was hired to provide "strategic advice" by the nuclear corporation British Energy.
  • Former Secretary of State John Hutton, who as Business Secretary published the government White Paper announcing government plans to build new nuclear stations, was appointed Chair of the Nuclear Industry Association in 2011. He also joined the advisory board of US nuclear corporation Hyperion Power Generation in July 2010.
  • Colin Byrne, the Labour Party's former chief press officer, headed up lobbying giant Weber Shandwick's UK arm, which BNFL hired to lobby for new nuclear plants.
  • Gordon Brown's brother, Andrew, was nuclear giant EdF's head of media relations in the UK.
  • Yvette Cooper was the Planning Minister who introduced fast-track planning for nuclear power stations. Her father was chair of nuclear lobbyists The Nuclear Industry Association and is director of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
  • Alan Donnelly, former leader of the Labour MEPs, runs the lobbying company Sovereign Strategy, which represented US nuclear engineering giant Fluor. His website promised "pathways to the decision makers in national governments".
  • Former Labour Minister Jack Cunningham was legislative chair of the Transatlantic Nuclear Energy Forum, an organisation founded by lobbyist Alan Donnelly to foster "strong relationships" between nuclear power companies and governments.
  • The Tory Peer Lady Maitland was a paid member of Sovereign Strategy's board.
  • Donnelly funded Labour leadership contender David Miliband's constituency office refurbishment.
  • David Sainsbury, Labour Minister for Science from 1998 to 2006 told the House of Lords that he regarded nuclear power as a form of renewable energy.
  • Ed Miliband's barrister wife Justine Thornton advised EdF Energy on its Development Consent Order for a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point.

Of course I cannot say that the financial links of any individual with the nuclear industry had any bearing on the party's change in policy. However this wholesale hiring of senior Labour Party figures by the nuclear lobby may have been influential in the fact that a number of key aims were achieved over the last ten years:

  • the reversal of Labour's commitment to rule out new nuclear power stations.
  • Labour ministers' introduction of a fast-track planning process for new nuclear plants without lengthy inquiries.

The saintly Lib Dems
It is also noteworthy that whilst governments across the world were abandoning nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, the new Tory / Lib Dem coalition abandoned their manifesto commitments to provide no public subsidy for new nuclear, by guaranteeing multi-billion pound annual subsidies. The Tory / Lib Dem government also made the taxpayer liable for nuclear disaster costs, after the private insurers refused to do so − as just one catastrophic accident would bankrupt most global insurance companies. To understand the comparative power of political lobbying versus voting at elections, you need to realise that the final two aims above were achieved despite the Lib Dems having for decades supposedly opposed nuclear power and the Tories having opposed nuclear subsidies in the 2010 general election. I was never convinced by the Lib Dem leadership's opposition to nuclear power after it successfully, in the late '90s, squashed the adoption in policy papers of the phrase "a renewable energy economy" that I had proposed to replace "a low carbon economy" which they favoured.

The latter of course allowed the switch to a pro-nuclear policy once the Lib Dems were in government. The prominent Lib Dem MP Ed Davey stood for election opposing nuclear energy, but as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, he became nuclear power's chief cheerleader − announcing that the government's entire industrial strategy was now based on new nuclear! The UK government is already spending the equivalent of 93% of the Department of Energy and Climate Change's entire annual budget on nuclear subsidies! This was achieved despite polls indicating overwhelming support by the public for renewable energy over nuclear power.

Lib Dem nuclear links
Ed Davey's brother, Henry Davey, works for the global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills which has advised EdF on its purchase of nuclear plants and the development application for a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point. Also Lib Dem peer Tim Clement-Jones, Nick Clegg's Party Treasurer at the last general election and the Party's spokesman on culture and sport in the House of Lords, is founder and chairman of Global Government Relations, the lobbying arm of the huge multinational law firm DLA Piper, and serves as DLA Piper's London Managing Partner. DLA Piper is listed as a member of the Nuclear Industry Association, and boasts of its widespread experience with many nuclear industry companies. According to its website it:

  • advised AREVA SA on their investment in New Nuclear Build at Hinkley Point C including the new Contract for Difference regime, waste management strategy and HM Treasury Infrastructure Guarantee Scheme.
  • advised Sellafield Limited on all aspects of their waste management and decommissioning programme covering annual capital spend of £1billion.
  • is advising the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority on the application of the International Nuclear Liability Conventions in respect of the marine transport of high level radioactive waste from Europe to Japan.
  • is advising nuclear supply chain on tendering exercises in support of new nuclear build in the UK.
  • is advising Westinghouse, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Magnox Limited and International Nuclear Services Limited on all aspects of fuel supply contracts, enrichment, waste management and radioactive transportation in support of activities in UK and globally.

Of course this could all be complete coincidence and we cannot conclude that Lord Clement-Jones had any influence on Lib Dem policy changes as regards nuclear power. But what we do know is that Davey won the battle at the European Commission to overthrow the Commission's previous ban on state aid for new nuclear power, following intense political and industry lobbying of the 28 Commissioners. Thus the Lib Dems' legacy will be to have thrown open the floodgates to new nuclear power right across Europe, despite their election manifesto having promised to oppose it.

This article is based on an extract from Donnachadh McCarthy's new book 'The Prostitute State − How Britain's Democracy Has Been Bought'. The book is available from:
Printed copies: