Manufacturing the News and Nuclear Power

432361985_0b275ec6d1_zThe news that people see is not really the full news but a biased portrayal of current stories aimed at conditioning the wider public to accept gross inequities without question. Regular readers of News Junkie Post will be aware that it breaks stories that cannot be found in the mainstream. This is because the mainstream media are owned by people with a particular agenda: people who do not want the general public to become aware of any proper news that is contrary to the agenda. To push forward this agenda, the mainstream media also manufacture stories. A recent example may be found in the proposed construction of a new nuclear power station on the Somerset coast at Hinckley Point.[1]

The BBC’s announcement of the construction of a new nuclear power station is part of the mainstream media’s agenda. The French company to whom the contract has been granted, Electricité de France (EDF), cannot just start construction without local people asking questions. What is more likely to be manufactured news came shortly afterwards: two days after the BBC story came a further announcement that Sellafield nuclear power station in Cumbria was being shut down on safety grounds due to weather conditions.[2] Two nuclear power-station stories in a week is a bit suspicious even for those who accept the news as presented. Although there had been an unseasonal fall of snow for March, it had been no different, in fact less severe, than many other wintry snowfalls when the power station was not closed. The timing of this Sellafield story seemed incredible, coming directly after the announcement of a new nuclear power station; the story reeked of being a bit too much of a coincidence. To anybody used to reading between the lines, it is unlikely that the closure was simply due to snow. So what was the story’s purpose?

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The plan, or hidden agenda, if followed through might have been to deprive households over a large area of northern England of their electricity during a cold spell. Had the closure lasted, there was a high probability that families would have been left without heating or lighting just to prove how dependent we really are on nuclear energy. This is one possibility. The other is to demonstrate how safety-conscious nuclear facilities are – all of a sudden. The shut down came two days after the announcement of a new plant, yet Sellafield has never closed down because of weather. The only reason nuclear plants shut down is for accidents, or perhaps maintenance. Accidents are different. There was an accident in 1957, which pushed the Cumbrian poet Norman Nicholson to pen these apposite lines:

This is a land where dirt is clean,
And poison pasture, quick and green
And storm sky, bright and bare;
Where sewers flow with milk, and meat
Is carved up for the fire to eat,
And children suffocate in God’s fresh air.[3]

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At the time of that leakage, Sellafield did not exist. The plant on the site was known as Windscale, as is Nicholson’s poem. The new facility at Sellafield got a new name to ensure that a gullible public, and those born after 1960, would not associate the Windscale disaster with the Sellafield nuclear power station. Nobody names a ship Titanic any more. Today Windscale is hardly ever mentioned, and new generations are oblivious to the accident, except for those who have learned of it from family members or read about it elsewhere. The incidence of childhood leukemia in the area is still up and the highest in the country. Despite a German study’s link of leukemia to nuclear power plants, a study commissioned by a government advisory committee found no such link.[4]

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More recent disasters, like those at Chernobyl and Fukushima, are rarely mentioned when new nuclear power stations are proposed; so presenting a safety facade is essential. What is mentioned is how efficient nuclear energy is. Safety must be a key factor in selling nuclear power to consumers who are increasingly aware of its dangers after those major-scale disasters. Nuclear plants are also needed to produce the latest range of nuclear weapons, which is never mentioned. The irony is that these weapons can penetrate nuclear plants. Think about it: no shut down of Sellafield due to the weather for decades, then one in the same week that a new facility is announced. This must be manufactured news, funded by those most likely to gain financially from the construction of yet another potentially-lethal power plant. Sellafield is being decommissioned. There was an accident: a more recent leak than the Windscale disaster at the Thorp facility in 2005 closed the plant for nearly two years.[5]

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The manufactured news did not end with the Sellafield shut down. Within three or four days, a second major ‘manufactured’-energy story hit the headlines. This time it concerned a supposed depletion in the UK’s gas reserves. The purpose of this was to show how we cannot rely on gas. Energy users, who have faced year on year increases in bills, are being asked to believe that the country could be running out of gas – which of course ultimately it is – but the article meant imminently. The prediction on Sunday March 24 was that only 1.4 to 3 days of gas reserves were left, and the United Kingdom had the lowest reserves in all of Europe. All stories mentioned how expensive gas is and how rationing might have to be introduced. At the same time, the general public was asked to accept that there will be increased energy bills again next winter.[6]

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In reality, the main problem is that all our energy suppliers are privately-owned conglomerates for whom profit — no let that be greed — is the main motivating factor. Increased profit equals increased bills. There are supposed to be ombudsmen to make sure that consumers get a fair deal. Where and when have customers experienced a reduction in bills? Private energy companies have a responsibility to shareholders that supersedes any responsibility to customers, despite the customers being the ones who pay the extortionate bills. There used to be an economic saying that “the customer is king,” meaning that customers could take their business elsewhere for a better deal. Price fixing and energy cartels have eliminated customer choice.

There was a time in the UK when energy bills rose in proportion to increases in wages and salaries, when families could afford to pay for essential services without undue strain on the rest of the family budget. That was back in the happier days when utilities were publicly owned. Back then, when work needed doing, it was done because the driving force was not profit but safety and the delivery of a responsible service. In our stringent days of private ownership, the average family is crippled by energy bills. Water leakages are ignored for decades. When in dry spells the country sees its water reservoirs fall to their lowest ever levels, this is blamed on increased consumption. Privately-owned industries have no motivation to locate and repair the leaks. Instead hosepipe bans are imposed on householders because this is a much cheaper option than fixing the leaks and does not impinge on profit.

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As with water, gas, and other essential industries, the new proposed nuclear power station will also be in private hands. This does not augur well for public safety or the family purse. Shareholders of private companies are not concerned about safety so much as profit, knowing as they do, that while the cash keeps coming in, their lives could not be sweeter. If later something goes badly wrong, like the Fukushima disaster, they can move their money and profits elsewhere, with the added consolation that the taxpayer, as usual, will pick up the bill. That is what happened with banking. There is no possibility with a Conservative, Labor or Liberal government that service industries will return to public ownership. They no longer believe in public ownership. Greed cracks the government whip.

References

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21839684

[2] http://lakelandradio.co.uk/2013/03/bad-weather-forces-sellafield-shutdown/

[3] Nicholson, Norman, A Local Habitation, Faber & Faber, London, 1972, p. 31.

[4] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/06/nuclear-power-leukaemia

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sellafield

[6] http://peakoil.com/consumption/could-uk-face-gas-rationing-british-gas-reserves-could-run-dry-in-36-hours and http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britain-faces-the-prospect-of-gas-rationing-for-the-first-time-8544975.html

Editor’s Note: All photographs by Trey Ratcliff.

 

 

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6 Responses to Manufacturing the News and Nuclear Power

  1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Jack EnMadrid....
    April 27, 2013 at 10:11 am

    QUOTE “NUCLEAR POWER In Spain.
    Energy reforms leave Garoña investment up in the air
    New taxes on atomic energy threaten the extension of the plant’s life
    RAFAEL MÉNDEZ Madrid 20 AGO 2012 – 13:51 CET
    The Spanish government plans to reform the energy sector look set to clash with its commitment to extend the life of the Garoña nuclear plant, located close to the city of Burgos. The operation of the power station until 2019 would require an investment of around 100 million euros, according to the Nuclear Security Council (CSN).

    an investment of around 100 million euros, according to the Nuclear Security Council (CSN).

    This month, Industry Minister José Manuel Soria approved a five-year extension of the plant, saying: “We cannot allow ourselves to under-utilise any of our energy resources,” adding that “we need a good mix, a good combination of power sources.”

    The previous ruling that Garoña could operate only until July 2013 came in contrast to the CSN’s opinion at the time, which specified clearly that the plant was suitable to operate for at least 10 years after 2009, given certain engineering improvements. The selection of a short license was made in 2009 by the previous government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, which until February 2011 adhered to the concept of 40 years as a reference lifespan for a nuclear reactor.

    Having generated its first power in 1966, Garoña is the oldest of Spain’s nuclear power plants. It is a 466 MWe boiling-water reactor, which has produced over 131 billion kWh to date.
    1966, Garoña is the oldest of Spain’s nuclear power………..

    The plant is owned in equal parts by power companies Iberdrola and Endesa via their joint venture Nuclenor.

    Environmental group Greenpeace has pressed for its closure, portraying it as a “twin sister” of the Fukushima plant in Japan, which was hit by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, causing reactor meltdowns.

    One of Spain’s main environmental groups, Ecologists in Action, says that “maintaining an old plant that was built before conclusions were drawn from the worst nuclear accidents [...] and which suffers from unsolved problems, is irresponsible.”

    Spain’s dependence on imported energy means that supplies must be diversified to use all available sources, says the government. Soria said in July that “nuclear energy contributes significantly to diversification.”

    Furthermore, the plant is a significant factor in the economy of the northern Burgos region, where trade association Foro Nuclear says it directly supports 1,500 families and contributes about 355 million euros a year through procurement, contracting, employment and taxes. The government says this economic factor “deserves special consideration, given the current economic climate.”

    Foro Nuclear president María Teresa Domínguez said the decision was the right one, because it was based on rational arguments and was consistent with the government’s overall energy policy.

    Spain is home to six nuclear power stations, which include eight reactors. Lawmakers agreed in February to extend the pre-established lifespan of 40 years for the facilities.

    Reform of the energy sector will be delayed until September as more cuts to premiums on renewables are being studied as a partial alternative to disputed tax proposals on power firms, government sources say.

    The Industry Ministry says that it wants the production of nuclear, hydroelectric and thermoelectric energy to be charged at 4 percent, or 2 euros per megawatt billed to consumers.

    Some other forms of energy would be charged at higher rates, including wind energy at 11 percent to raise 440 million euros and photovoltaic energy at 19 percent to generate 550 million euros.

    On top of this first tax, nuclear and hydroelectric plants would pay an additional tax of 10 euros per megawatt and 15 euros per megawatt respectively, while hydrocarbons would face an additional surcharge of 4 cents a cubic meter, which is expected to raise 1.2 billion euros.

    Other cuts to the sector include slashing 50 million euros for energy transportation and 100 million euros for services outside the mainland.

    The reforms come at a critical moment as Spain battles to raise tax revenues and avoid a full sovereign bailout. Madrid has said that about 8.6 billion euros of a 65-billion-euro austerity program will come from new energy and environmental taxes in the next two-and-a-half years.

    The government has increased electricity prices twice this year and is now looking to spread its austerity program to cover more industries.

    For years Spanish utilities have charged customers less than the cost of producing energy, creating a 24-billion-euro tariff deficit the government has absorbed, and which it now hopes to slash through taxes on the industry.

    Soria has been promising reform since taking office. But the draft bill has been caught up in government wrangling over both the legality and the use of taxes on power generation. A failure to implement the reform would force the government to revise once again its budget plans in order to find alternative sources of revenues.

    Soria is also under pressure from the judiciary after the Supreme Court ruled that the tariff deficit — estimated to rise by 4 billion euros a year if no action is taken — must be eliminated in 2013. “UNQUOTE

  2. John Goss
    +1 Vote -1 Vote +1John Goss
    April 29, 2013 at 2:43 am

    Jack en Madrid. It looks like Spain has the same fight on its hands as we have in the UK. I cycled through Burgos on an epic cycle-trip in 2000. This is from Amics de la Terra

    “Nuclear power? No thank you!

    Spain’s first nuclear power station was the Zorita (or ‘José Cabrera’) station in 1968, followed later by Garoña in the Valle de Tobalina (Burgos) in 1971. The remaining projects came in the 1980s, such as the Almaraz I, Ascó I and Almaraz II power stations. Today, there are a total of 8 nuclear power stations currently in operation in our country.

    The social response via the anti-nuclear movement was gradually developing and its protests growing against this type of energy generation. The climax arrived in 1990 when a Popular Anti-nuclear Legislation Iniciative was set in motion, but unfortunately it didn’t achieve its aims.

    Nuclear energy has always been associated with accidents and breakdowns, although the worst of the problems is the management of radioactive waste that emits radioactivity for thousands of years.

    Most recently was the Fukushima accident (in March last year and as a result of an earthquake tsunami). It emitted radioactive particles to its surroundings, with incalculable consequences for biodiversity and human health.

    This accident was level 7, the maximum, on the International Accident Scale, making it equal to that of Chernobyl.

    Currently in Japan, only 2 of its 54 nuclear reactors are in operation and there is no energy crisis nor blackouts. The only existing crisis is that of radioactive pollution.

    There are many other accidents in our collective memory, with some examples being Otawa in 1952, Three Mile Island (Harrisburg) in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986, Vandellós I in 1989 and so on.

    Is a nuclear-free future possible?

    In Spain, nuclear energy represents almost 20.6 per cent of overall production, whilst renewables (including wind, hydro and solar power) represent almost 32.4 per cent, varying from one year to the next.

    It’s possible to get the most out of renewable energies and to forget about nuclear energy, but we must also reduce our dependence on power generation using fossil fuels, such as natural gas combined-cycle plants or coal power stations. Both sources generate CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

    It’s a question of common sense and only a matter of time until renewable energies form the basis of power production in our country. One of its advantages is that it will reduce dependence on nuclear energy, gas, coal and oil, which are often found in regions with significant social problems.

    The development of renewable energies must be a priority for both central and regional government, as well as for councils. In addition, this development would have the added benefit of job creation throughout the country, something that’s as necessary as it is undeniable, as well as being skilled work.

    We must put everything behind green energy, without forgetting that a policy must exist for rationalising energy consumption, using the energy that’s really essential.

    Our future must be based on renewable energies; there’s no other way to guarantee a healthy planet for future generations. Fukushima is not part of the part and nuclear power stations are not a ‘necessary evil’.

    Join the vigil in memory of the Fukushima accident.

    (This article reproduces part of an opinion piece by Juan Donaire from the Colectivo Ecologista de la Rioja – Amigos de la Tierra España.)”

  3. Vote -1 Vote +1felix
    April 29, 2013 at 11:47 am

    small correction, John. Before the denizens of Worthing or Eastbourne start protesting, Hinckley Point is on the Severn Estuary near Berkeley, Glos.

  4. John Goss
    Vote -1 Vote +1John Goss
    May 1, 2013 at 1:03 am

    Thanks Felix. Slip of the pen.

  5. Vote -1 Vote +1Billy
    May 2, 2013 at 6:07 am

    One problem with your article: Sellafield is no longer a nuclear power station. Its reactors shut down years ago.

    • John Goss
      Vote -1 Vote +1John Goss
      May 2, 2013 at 10:49 am

      Yes, Billy thanks. I did mention it was being decommissioned. In 2009 the Observer called Sellafield ‘the most hazardous place in Europe’.