It wasn’t always like this. In 1986, in the wake of Chernobyl, the TUC backed a nuclear ‘moratorium and review’ policy. In the same year, the Labour Party had confirmed its 1985 anti (civil) nuclear power stance, with a two thirds majority for phasing it out. The then quite dominant Transport and General Workers Union said it was ‘clear and unambiguous in its position on nuclear power. We support a halt to nuclear expansion and a safe and planned phase out of nuclear power in this country.’ So what has changed?
The Labour Party had gone into the 1987 national election with a manifesto talking of ‘gradually diminishing Britain’s dependence upon nuclear energy’, but was unable to unseat the Tories, whose subsequent electricity privatisation and liberalisation programme (continued by Blair) put the unions on the defensive - they sought to protect energy jobs across the board. And Blair then switched to a pro-nuclear policy.
A sub-text to that may have been the low level of conviction by most of the unions at that time that renewables could provide viable alternative employment. In its 1988 Nuclear Energy Review, the TUC said ‘renewables are not going to make a big contribution to Britain’s energy supplies over the next 20 years’.
Well it’s taken nearly 30 years, but they are now big (25%) growing, and creating jobs- with nearly 126,000 people employed in the UK renewable energy industry in 2017 according to the REA: http://www.r-e-a.net/news/new-report-shows-nearly-126000-employed-in-growing-renewables-industry-but-growth-slowing
However, the unions still seem unsure, and some have taken to recycling dubious statistics and arguments to try to undermine the case for renewables. At its 2016 annual Congress the GMB Union’s National Secretary, Justin Bowden, noted that ‘over the last 12 months there were 46 days when wind was supplying 10% or less of the installed and connected wind capacity to the grid’ and insisted that ‘until there is a scientific breakthrough on carbon capture or solar storage, then nuclear and gas are the only reliable shows in town which those advocating a renewable energy-only policy have to accept.’ www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/low-wind-days
This doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. For over half of those 46 low-wind days i.e. outside of winter, and for most of the nights, overall energy demand would have been low, so a low wind input would not matter. When it did, existing gas plants would have ramped up a bit more to provide the extra energy needed e.g. as they do any way to meet daily peaks. As more renewable come of the grid, other balancing measures can also be used, so there is not really a problem. But inflexible base-load nuclear plants are no usef or this - they can’t vary output regularly, quickly and safely. They just get in the way of the flexible supply and demand approach that is needed.
However, that’s a replay of the ‘more of everything’ approach beloved by the TUC, inherited from the days when they sought to avoid conflicts between members in coal, gas, oil and nuclear, the code phrase used being ‘a balanced energy system’.
There seems to be no awareness of the opportunity cost issue. Given inevitably limited budgets, choices have to be made: e.g. money spent of nuclear can’t be spent on other options, and for most of the last few decades nuclear has got the lions share of what was available for new energy technology. Thankfully that is beginning to change, although for the pro-nuclear unions that is a cause for regret. Indeed,
That’s an interesting debate, but it seems pretty clear that nuclear is not a candidate for local ownership, or even UK ownership! So maybe at some point there will be a change in view- given enough grass roots agitation. That’s what happened in the 1980s, with grass roots groups like SERA doing much of the foot work. While, sadly, on nuclear, it may seem that we are back where we were in the 1980s, starting all over again to build opposition, the rapid growth of renewables, and their continuing cost reductions, does change the situation.