Capitalism and Nuclear Power

August 14th, 2011

Yesterday I went to buy miso in Earthfare (wholefood shop) and the one I usually buy wasn’t on the shelves so I asked at the counter if they’d any rice miso as I’m allergic to barley. And what I learnt is that there is no food coming out of Japan since the earthquake, that the miso we can buy now is last year’s. It stopped me in my tracks. What do we know of Japan now other than the name Fukishima? We have no idea how the people are suffering. There are something in the region of ten million people affected by nuclear radiation poisoning in Japan right now and who knows what other effects the earthquake has had. Their food will be contaminated for generations. Where I lived in Wales in 1986 the sheep are still marked as dangerously radioactive twenty five years later. Ruminating on these matters, I realise that the Japanese have been catapulted into the post-industrial reality that we are all going to have to face, with the kind of suddenness we can anticipate will be our lot, given that we simply do not seem to be capable of facing truth and changing direction until forced to.

I go online to find some hard facts about the effects of nuclear radiation to share with you and alongside an article from The Guardian explaining that the way in which the impact of nuclear radiation is measured officially fails miserably to reflect the realities of how dangerous it actually is, there is an invitation to find ‘the cheapest gas and electricity deals’. What is it going to take for us to realise that the direction we need to be going in is working out which ‘deal’ is ‘cheapest’ for the Earth rather than ourselves? The juxtaposition of an article explaining the consequences of our hunger for ‘cheap’ nuclear energy and an invitation to play the capitalist game of ignoring all the ‘externalities’ (that is consequences of our trading choices that are not reflected in the price we pay) is ironic. Encouraging people to buy the cheapest energy without any consideration of how that energy is produced means that the energy companies with the least conscience in terms of the damage they do, will win the largest portion of the market for energy and right now EDF are the main supplier of electricity in this country.

That’s the problem with capitalism. Last Tuesday at the Transition Glastonbury Information Point, a fierce debate developed on the nature of capitalism. Trading, i.e. the exchange of goods and services, is not to be confused with capitalism. We have to have a mechanism of exchange, that’s what a market is. But capitalism is based on what this society calls ‘the Law of Supply and Demand’ which assumes that both buyer and seller are only motivated by profit. The person selling seeks to minimise their costs and maximise their profit, the person buying (as this invitation to search for an energy supplier assumes) want only to spend the least amount of money they can for the best quality of good they can get. This ‘law’ lies at the heart of our problem because environmental damage, radiation poisoning or anything else that is not a direct cost borne by the supplier is not included in the equation. Continuing to ignore the real costs of our economic choices now has the probable ‘price’ of life of Earth as our fellow Beings are becoming extinct at an ever increasing rate and we ourselves are in danger of joining them.

I can’t face this search for the facts and figures this morning. You can find them for yourselves. There’s an overwhelming list of research papers and articles on the Stop Hinkey website for starters. What I wanted to get across is that the official picture downplays the reality by measuring only external radiation and ignores the impact of ingested radiation – Chris Busby used the analogy that it’s the difference between standing near a fire and putting a hot coal from that fire in your mouth. What it means is that when it comes to the game of statistics, there’s information that is being left out of the assessment of risk that needs to be included.

Which brings me to something Johnny Heriz told me about the planning application to build more nuclear reactors at Hinkley: An environmental impact survey was carried out but the surveyors were explicitly barred from assessing the impact on the environment of the actual process of producing nuclear energy and limited to assessing only the impact of putting up the buildings. Insane? Or simply dishonest?

I reckon we need to operate on the ‘precautionary principle’ so that until we know for sure that the claims that measures of nuclear radiation downplay its impact have no basis in reality, then we should accept the most cautious measures of risk available to us. One of the things that I am not sure if I should go public with is my own story. In 1986 when the Chernobyl disaster occurred I was, as I said earlier, living at the top of a Welsh mountain in an area where the radiation levels were particularly high. When Chris Busby was talking about the health problems that result from exposure to nuclear radiation he mentioned chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid problems and breast cancer. I’ve had all these. Are all the health problems I’ve had due to radiation poisoning? I’ll never know. We all know enough to know that nuclear power is dangerous but how many people filling in that form for the cheapest electricity supplier know that they are contributing to the problem?

EDF supply electricity to most of the homes throughout Britain, they have nuclear power stations both here and in France and they have the nerve to advertise themselves on TV as a green supplier. Are you with EDF? If you recognise how dangerous nuclear power is then your first step is to switch to a green supplier.

And I beg you to sign the Stop Hinkley petition (if you’ve not already done so) and to get as many other people as you can to sign it likewise. I have no idea where my commitment to doing whatever I can to stop the building of another nuclear reactor at Hinkley will take me but I’ve already served a prison sentence for engaging in an anti-nuclear protest so I am well placed to engage in the blockade as I am perfectly prepared to do time again.

And how does this tie in with my bardic role? Well I am out there telling the story of the Kingdom of Shambhala to as many people as I can and to me when it comes to ‘dismantling the weapons’ direct action against nuclear power fits the bill. What I really want is to be training the next generation of activists. We all need insight and compassion and to know how to protest against what is wrong without doing worse – which could lead me easily into my ‘take’ on the riots but I’ll have to leave that discussion for another day.

The Healing Fields gig was the best yet. I was relaxed. I had a proper audience and they absolutely loved what I had to say. I was on stage for about half an hour and only half way through my set which is good news because my session at Uncivilisation is from 5.30 to 7 on Saturday!

I’ve the divil an’ all to do so I’ll have to leave it there.
Love to you all,
Dearbhaile

2 Responses to “Capitalism and Nuclear Power”

  1. Jo says:

    Wow.
    Yes. You’ve had all three. Shout it out!
    So proud to know you.

    • Dearbhaile says:

      Thanks Jo. I was about to remove that bit as this blog is now going outside this lovely intimate circle but thanks to your comment I reversed that decision. It was such a shock when Chris Busby started talking about the research into the effects of Chernobyl and I realised that my experience fitted the picture.
      Dearbhaile