The explosion at the French nuclear plant is a timely reminder of the dangers of nuclear energy. It should be another wake-up call for the UK government, says Kate Hudson.
Monday's explosion at a nuclear waste storage site in the French nuclear plant at Marcoule coincides with the imminent publication - due this week - of the report by Mike Weightman, Britain's Chief Nuclear Inspector, into the implications for the UK nuclear industry of the Fukushima disaster. The explosion should be a timely reminder that the industry is not only subject to the threat of natural disaster but also human and mechanical error in the process of normal operation.
And this is defiinitely something that UK policy makers need to take on board. As countries like Germany, Switzerland and Italy suspended and even cancelled their new nuclear power programmes, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne stressed his determination to go ahead with new nuclear power plants in the UK even before Weightman had produced his report. But the abject - and sadly not surprising - failure of the UK process was summed up by Weightman's interim report in May. As the magnitude of the Fukushima disaster was still unfolding, he asserted that 'The extreme natural events that preceded the accident at Fukushima - the magnitude 9 earthquake and subsequent huge tsunami - are not credible in the UK.' But even a non-scientist like me can see that these risks are not the issue in the UK: the real issue is the inherent and unique risks of nuclear power which are present in normal running of power stations - the DNA-destroying radiation - not just in extreme circumstances. Events like Fukushima and Chernobyl throw them into sharpest relief, but the reality is those dangers are there all the time.
What has taken place at Marcoule shows absolutely clearly that the extreme conditions that prevailed in Fukushima are not a precondition for nuclear accidents and potential disasters. Above all, Marcoule shows the danger of nuclear waste. There is no reactor on site at Marcoule - but nevertheless an explosion took place next to a furnace in a nuclear waste storage facility. This clearly demonstrates the hazards associated with nuclear waste. Indeed, a number of apparently 'routine' accidents have already affected the UK nuclear industry this year.
Earlier this year a leaked document showed that at least three incidents at nuclear facilities at Sellafield, Torness and Hartlepool had to be reported to ministers in the UK in the first quarter of the year alone. How many more incidents will there be before the government reconsiders its plans for new nuclear power stations?
Marcoule clearly highlights the ongoing dangers of nuclear waste and the absolute irresponsibility of creating any more. We already have a large legacy of dangerously radioactive nuclear waste. Recent estimates indicate that the UK has over 5 million cubic metres of it. Some of this will remain fatally toxic for hundreds of thousands of years and there is still no long-term solution for what to do with it.
Without doubt today's explosion is a further wake-up call to the government - should they need one following the Fukushima disaster. There is no situation in which they can guarantee the safety of nuclear power or nuclear waste. But will they heed the call?
We call on the government to listen to increasing public concerns and abandon its plans for new nuclear power stations and the accompanying production of vast additional quantities of nuclear waste. Nuclear power and nuclear waste present an ever-present danger. Now is the time for the government to pursue a non-nuclear energy policy.
If you want to take action join us to blockade Hinkley Point nuclear power station on 3rd October. Hinkley is planned to be the first out of eight sites to receive a new nuclear reactor. Let's stop it at Hinkley. Visit www.cnduk.org
Kate Hudson is the General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a founder member of Left Unity. She was instrumental in building the Stop the War Coalition and was one of the organisers of the million-strong 2003 demonstration against the invasion of Iraq. She has written widely on a number of subjects and spoken on many platforms. She is active in the People’s Assembly and the Greece Solidarity Campaign.