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If the unions were so bothered about jobs, they should be supporting renewables, not nuclear. But could it be that those are the 'wrong kind of jobs' - not unionised ones? Photo: Centre for Alternative Technology (www.cat.org.uk) via Flickr (CC BY).
If the unions were so bothered about jobs, they should be supporting renewables, not nuclear. But could it be that those are the 'wrong kind of jobs' - not unionised ones? Photo: Centre for Alternative Technology (www.cat.org.uk) via Flickr (CC BY).
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If it's jobs they want, Labour and the unions must back renewables, not Hinkley C!

Ian Fairlie

30th August 2016

Four of Britain's major unions are big supporters of nuclear power, writes Ian Fairlie - all because of the jobs. Now Labour's shadow energy minister has joined them in backing Hinkley C - even though renewable energy is a far better job-creator than nuclear, and already employs three times more people.

The recent analysis of jobs in the energy sector published by the Office of National Statistics reveals only 15,500 direct jobs in nuclear power compared with 43,500 direct jobs in renewables.

On July 28, the Prime Minister's Office announced a delay until the autumn to allow a review to take place re the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C proposed by the previous Government.

Since then, press criticisms of the mooted Hinkley C have continued unabated led by flagship editorials from the FT and The Economist.

These echo widespread concerns by the National Audit Office (NAO) in its recent preliminary report - Nuclear Power in the UK.

A detailed reading reveals serious question marks about the proposed project. According to The Times of July 31, the NAO will publish another damning report on Hinkley as soon as the Government has made its decision.

It would be infinitely preferable for the NAO's considerations to be made available to the Government before legally binding decisions were taken on Hinkley C, rather than afterwards.

This is not a minor matter: the Government is understood to have ready a draft Investor Agreement - essentially an irrevocable contract for electricity from Hinkley C for 35 years at a cost of £29.7 billion to British energy consumers, as estimated in the above NAO report. This is a discounted sum: economists consider an undiscounted sum of about £37 billion should really be applied. Whichever figure is used, this is an unconscionable sum.

But it is not just the NAO which is concerned: other institutions including the Treasury's National Infrastructure Commission, chaired by Lord Adonis, and its Infrastructure and Projects Authority. Members of Energy UK are also worried.

And two years ago, as stated in the UK Government's report of October 8, 2014 to the European Commission on state aid for Hinkley, the then Infrastructure UK arm of the Treasury evaluated the Hinkley project as 'Speculative BB+'.

Even this junk rating would have depended on the proper functioning of the proposed EPR at Flamanville in France which is by no means assured. In 2016, two years later, it is likely Hinkley's investment rating will be even lower.

Labour's Position on Hinkley Point C

Labour's policy on Hinkley depends on who is speaking. In August 2015, Jeremy Corbyn set out a highly enlightened energy and environment manifesto which rejected new nuclear. More recently, the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons and Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Flynn MP, strongly opposed continued investment at Hinkley C.

However Corbyn's appointment as Shadow spokesperson on energy matters, Barry Gardiner MP, remains supportive of Hinkley mainly because of trade union mantras on the need for jobs that Hinkley would provide. But these mantras are a shibboleth, defined as a long-standing belief which is widely regarded as outmoded or no longer related to the actual situation.

According to EdF Energy, only 900 direct permanent jobs would be created at Hinkley C, were it ever to be constructed. Even this is a likely overestimate, as on average UK nuclear power stations only employ about 600 workers. Although about 4,500 jobs would exist each year during any construction, EdF has admitted most would be temporary and filled by overseas workers.

And these permanent jobs would come at a hefty price. Independent analysts estimate each nuclear job at Hinkley would cost consumers an extra £800,000 per year compared to jobs in renewables in terms of increased costs of electricity.

Although ill-informed leaders of a few large unions support nuclear for jobs reasons, many trade unionists do not. The excellent 2014 report A Million Climate Jobs by 24 energy analysts and trade union officials reveals the large potential for jobs in the renewables and explicitly eschews nuclear power.

Trade union leaders may think that nuclear power is a major provider of jobs. It is not. The recent analysis of jobs in the energy sector published by the Office of National Statistics reveals only 15,500 direct jobs in nuclear power compared with 43,500 direct jobs in renewables - including renewable heat, renewable combined heat and power, bioenergy and alternative fuels in 2014.

Of course it may be that the four main unions backing nuclear power - GMB, Unite, Ucatt, and Prospect - do so not for the sake of jobs, but only for the sake of jobs within their unions. That would be understandable - but if that's the case they should admit this and stop saying nuclear provides lots of 'jobs'.

UK renewables already employ three times as many people as nuclear

In fact, the ONS figure is flattering, as about 9,000 of the 15,500 workers are engaged in nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield in Cumbria. The reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel is a filthy, dangerous, polluting and essentially useless activity which produces not a single watt of electricity and consumes a great deal of it. It also accounts for most of NDA's whopping ~£3 billion annual operating bill which taxpayers are forced to pay. We shall return to the nonsense of nuclear reprocessing in a future article.

If we accept the ONS estimate, the renewables sector employs about three times as many people as nuclear. In future it is clear this ratio will increase as the number of nuclear jobs is declining with the closure of old nuclear power stations.

On the other hand, the numbers of permanent new jobs in the renewables industries are increasing by leaps and bounds. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2015, renewables employed 7.7 million people worldwide, with 650,000 in Europe, including 370,000 in Germany and 160,000 in France.

The IRENA estimates are for both direct and indirect jobs and there is some uncertainty in the methods used to derive them. However it is quite clear that they are pointing in the right direction.

No estimates are yet available for both direct and indirect jobs in the UK energy sector, but the ONS has stated it is working on this. Indirect jobs are usually estimated by multiplying the direct jobs number with an increase factor. This means that the number of indirect UK jobs created in the renewables sector will be much larger than the number of indirect jobs in the nuclear sector.

Hinkley C a financial disaster and poor job-creator

All things considered, Hinkley C would be a remarkably poor bet for Britain. Industry insiders expect 90% of the work at Hinkley, and all hi-tech work, would go to French firms. For example, in 2013 EDF Energy completed a very large gas-fired power station at West Burton in Nottinghamshire where 100% of the engineering contracts (even the concrete) went to French firms.

In addition, pro-nuclear unions seem to be unaware that public support for Hinkley is declining. It fell from 57% in October 2013 to 33% in April this year, according to polling conducted on behalf of a pro-nuclear organisation. The report added "the growing level of public hostility to the £18 billion Hinkley project comes amid concern over its cost for UK consumers and a series of delays." This is not an isolated poll; other local surveys indicate the same.

These unions also appear to be unaware that it was only in May 2006 that Mr Blair changed Labour's policy on nuclear: before then, Labour and the unions (including the TUC) had been pro-renewables and openly sceptical on nuclear. It is time for the unions and some senior MPs in the Labour Party to wake up to the reality that nuclear furnishes few UK jobs, and that Hinkley C would not be a major jobs provider.

Instead they should give their support exclusively to renewables which are already a major jobs provider and in future will become an even greater one - all the more so if we seize the opportunites quickly and develop a global export trade in key renewable energy technologies.

 


 

Dr Ian Fairlie is an independent consultant on environmental radioactivity. He formerly was a senior scientist in the Civil Service and worked for the TUC as a researcher between 1975 and 1990.

 

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