Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West, on the history of the anti-nuclear movement in Wales and whether nuclear energy still has a part to play in today's world.
Finland, the new Chernobyl?
Being anti-nuclear in the seventies was regarded as an eccentricity.
In January 1979, the late Jon Vaughan Jones and I were only two of the 70 members of Gwent County Council to oppose a planned new nuclear power station at Portskewett near Chepstow.
We had a hard time from fellow Labour councillors especially the group leader Graham Powell. He represented neighbouring Caldicot. He told us that we were committing political suicide by opposing thousands of new jobs to unemployment-hit Gwent.
When the full Council came to vote on the planning application in in May 1979, not one councillor spoke in favour. It was not the persuasive oratory of Jon, impressive as that was, that changed minds. It was the accident at Three Mile Island that destroyed public and councillor trust. The CEGB threatened legal action against the County Council. It never happened. Nor did the power station.
This morning in the plush Park Inn Cardiff, the Nuclear Free Authorities and the Welsh Anti Nuclear Alliance (WANA) held a seminar on Wales' nuclear future. Two of the founder members of WANA were there. Hugh Richards of Llandrindod Welles has kept the flame of anti-nuclear campaigning burning since the first meeting in Aberystwyth in April 1980. The plan was to persuade all eight Welsh counties to declare themselves 'nuclear free'. They did. We claimed that the Welsh nation had spoken.
The bright people of WANA won over Welsh opinion with the help of the fear of a new nuclear accident. WANA was also one of the few protest movements that made money with marketing of 'Nuclear Power - no thanks' badges and stickers. Prime Minister Thatcher was not impressed. She planned ten new nuclear power stations. In 1986 Chernobyl destroyed nuclear's credibility for a generation.
Now it's back. For how long. Another nuclear accident is not likely- but possible in some of the ageing Soviet reactors. Safety is much better. But New Nuclear is likely to be derailed by New Nuclear. No nuclear power station in the world has been completed on time or on budget. The world's only New Nuclear station in Finland is as financially disastrous as Old Nuclear.
This time last year the Finnish station was 3 years late and £2 billion over budget. Then things deteriorate.
Squabbling broke out between the Finns and the French-German contractors. The story reads like an episode of Desperate Housewives. A recalculation was made of the likely future profitability. in spite of the sumptuous hopes of a few years ago, the expectation of profits has been cut by a massive 97%.
Very little of the calamity has been reported outside of the technical press. The truth will out. The evidence of the economic futility of New Nuclear will be exposed. The rush to nuclear will halt. The economics of the Finnish foul-up could provide a brake as effective as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
Paul Flynn was elected to the House of Commons in 1987. He has remained the Labour MP for Newport West ever since. He joined the front bench under Neil Kinnock in 1988 when he became a spokesman on health and social security. He resigned from the front bench in 1990 and has remained on the back benches since. He joined the transport select committee in 1990 until after the 1997 General Election when he joined the Welsh affairs select committee for a year. He was a member of the environment audit select committee from 2003 until the 2005 General Election, since when he has been a member of the Public Administration select committee.