Britain’s dalliance with a new generation of nuclear energy is about to take a degrading turn for the people of Wales, as EDF prepares to dump over 300,000 tons of potentially hazardous waste from Hinkley Point off the coast of our capital. After dredging mud from the discharge of old nuclear power stations and needing somewhere to get rid of it, the energy giant threatens to run roughshod over the legitimate worries of Welsh people, and our Government seems powerless to stop it.
On Thursday, there was another protest outside the Senedd. With plans postponed for a few more weeks, now is the time to keep up the public pressure. There may still be a chance to stop this.
Thousands of local campaigners and residents have long opposed plans to drop this waste in Welsh waters on the grounds that it might very well be radioactive. EDF - the company which runs the nuclear power stations at Hinkley, and therefore a trusted, independent voice on the matter - insists that it is not. The Welsh Government Marine Consents Unit and Natural Resources Wales took the side of the energy giant, and granted a licence to dump the mud about a mile off the coast of Cardiff.
Since then, Welsh Assembly Members from across all parties have expressed their concerns over this issue, particularly that the sampling of mud was not extensive enough to detect potential contamination from the discharges of Hinkley Point A and B. There have been calls for a peer review. There have been calls to make mud samples available to external experts. There have even been calls for further sampling from the Petitions Committee. All such requests have been turned down by EDF, who say they are “alarmist and wrong”.
It is worth reminding ourselves that there is no good reason for dredging this mud in the first place. This ground in Somerset is being cleared in order to begin construction on the cooling towers for Hinkley Point C - a new nuclear power station which has no place in the energy mix of modern Britain. The cost to the taxpayer continues to spiral billions above budget, while the environmental and safety risks of nuclear are well established. Such money and effort should be directed towards decentralised, low-carbon energy, but unfortunately both Labour and the Conservatives remain beholden to white elephant vanity projects like this.
Here in Wales, we were set to trail blaze on renewable energy with the world-leading innovation of the Swansea Tidal Lagoon. Sadly, Britain’s backwards and short sighted approach to energy policy meant that a future facing project like this was scrapped by the UK energy minister, while we continue to throw limitless cash at a new generation of dirty nuclear. Wales loses out again.
In a sense, it is only partly the point whether or not the mud is actually radioactive. Either way, the willingness to palm off such risk onto Wales is yet another example of our nation’s standing in neoliberal Britain. The modern history of Wales has epitomised the avarice of extractive, globalised capitalism; our natural resources and labour harvested for the benefit of others, before leaving entire communities to rot as soon as the profit motive has dried up. The fate of deindustrialised valleys towns is well known. Now Wales must become a literal dumping ground.
Since we were granted our own devolved Government, our elected representatives have failed to demonstrate the leadership needed to reverse and repair this situation. Twenty years of centrist Labour at its most vapidly unambitious has produced a generation of politicians who are hopelessly capitulating to the demands of capital and Westminster with no vision for the future of the country whatsoever. Can you think of even one other advanced nation which would import mud?
This is what the uninterrupted hegemony of Blairite swill has brought us to. It was bad enough to see an opportunity for clean energy innovation run into the ground and wiped off the agenda. Now we’re reduced to accepting the waste from England’s dirty energy infrastructure, and dumping it off the coast of our capital. Gone is the future in which a Swansea Tidal Lagoon brought us clean energy, jobs, and national pride. Instead we can go to Penarth, and reminisce about the days when it felt safe to go into the water.