energy for Britain
WORKERS, OCTOBER 2000 ISSUE
THE GEOLOGICAL MAP of Britain indicates extensive coal reserves across much of the country. It is estimated that we have up to the equivalent of 1,000 years burn. The difficulties are how to extract it safely and burn it cleanly. Both difficulties can be resolved by ingenuity, inventiveness, skill and planning.
Extracting and using coal for electricity generation implies a distribution network capable of delivering to every home and workplace in Britain. Renewal of the grid is never ending. It requires planning and investment beyond the lifespan of any man or woman.
Britains gas reserves must be protected. Exhaustion will occur in the next 10 years if the present gas burn for electricity generation is continued. Massive imports are planned, making the UK dependent on sources located in areas of political instability such as Russia and the Middle East.
Mothballed oil-fired power stations, some hardly used for the best part of 30 years, litter Britains coast. Our exploitation of the North Sea reserves has been short-sighted and wasteful. However, further extensive reserves have been identified in the North Sea. These require a commitment to new investment and extended delivery systems, far preferable to extending our dependency on easier existing developments in the Middle East.
Britains nuclear generation needs a radical re-think. Power stations built in the 1970s were essentially test rigs. Except for the ageing Magnox stations, the 14 nuclear stations vary greatly in design. A single integrated structure to deal with production and recycling is needed. Closure is not an option but research and development for the future should replace nuclear competition. You cannot switch a nuclear station "off" overnight like a conventional generator.
Power from wind, tides and the recycling of waste, are all other options, but at present cannot meet the energy requirements for a modern industrial nation wanting to keep the lights on come what may.
So Britain is energy rich with a variety of differing strands. It is not a question of one versus another form of generation but how these components are put together and by whom. Should we plan an integrated, multi-faceted infrastructure or leave development to market forces?
In just over 100 years of electricity generation, there have been many forms of ownership: private, municipal, piecemeal, integrated, national, private again and foreign-owned. Private and foreign ownership now present the greatest threat to energy production that Britain has faced in over 60 years.
It is the responsibility of workers employed in the energy industries to determine a radical, integrated, planned and achievable strategy to meet the requirements of the British people above and beyond mere shareholding.