Exploding nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan, might seem a pretty remote concern for Joe and Joanna Public filling up the car tank on Main Street, or wondering why the electricity bill seems so much higher this year, but its not just the invisible particles of radiation that connect events in far-away Japan and hometown USA. Because for all that energy policy sounds rather high-brow and complicated, it is actually as simple as ABC. The ‘A’ is that ALL energy companies want prices to go up. And the government wants exactly the same thing.
Point ‘B’ is that almost all the world’s energy needs are met from BURNING plants, either long dead ones, like coal and natural gas, or recently chopped ones like logs for the stove. It’s always been like that and for all the talk about other technologies it still is. And what’s more, even as electricity and gas prices go steadily up for consumers – these fundamental prices are going steadily down. So what’s the trick? For indeed trick it is.
Point ‘C’, he third, and essential, fact is that in recent years governments have latched onto energy taxes as a CASH-COW. No one can avoid the bills, and strangely enough, no one really seems to realise that most of the cost hikes are in fact imposed by governments in various kinds of energy taxes. With gas for cars, you are even taxed on the taxes! Gas is going to be $4 a gallon next year, take our word for it. But is won’t be because there is any shortage of world oil, or even because the giant energy companies are struggling a bit. Rather, it will be because political interests and those corporations have a mutual interest pact that means prices have to go up. Every time you read that the Federal government has found another billion dollars or so to help renewables (like wind or solar) or to underwrite a new nuclear rector, the subtext is that the government is working not to keep prices down – but up!.
Conspiracy? Exactly. but don’t take our word for it. Did you know that when you fill your tank with gas, you add in a little bit of fuel made from plants? Biofuel, they call it, typically from crops like sunflowers and corn. But oil made from plants is far more expensive than ordinary oil, add to which it is less efficient in the combustion engine (so you get less bang for your buck). So why put it into the tank? But governments all over the world have decided to do just that, causing a massive switch of land use from essential food crops like rice to inessential and plain stupid oil ones.
So back to nuclear energy. The trick here is that nowhere in the world does nuclear produce much useful electricity. Japan, which nominally relied on it for a fifth of its ‘power’, actually relied on it so little that after the Fukushima disaster, all but a handful of its 54 nuclear reactors could be turned off without anyone really noticing. The real effects, however, are financial. At $2.5 billion a throw to close a nuclear reactor down, Japanese consumers are going to be asked to find ten billion dollars in taxes to help their electricity company along. Much worse, there is a colossal bill from the forced evacuation of residents in Japan, the estimates here run into hundreds of billions. Every country that has nuclear power stations has had to take note of this (as well as the ongoing and astronomical bills from the Chernobyl explosion which have been unambiguously all been passed on to the consumer).and begin to prepare for the day when their reactors have to be cleaned up after. Huge energy bills – bad, right? No, The Japanese disaster is actually good news for governments and energy corporations.
In Japan, the the latest news is that the bills for cleaning up after nuclear is going to be picked up 90% by the government, rather than the private electricity companies responsible. Why’s that? But again it is simple. the company would go bust otherwise. The nuclear industry, like the banks that feasted on the sub-prime loans, is too ‘big to fall’, and Joe Public is already being made to pay the difference.
Contact Martin Cohen for more details: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Doomsday Machine: The High Price of Nuclear Energy, the World’s Most Dangerous Fuel, Martin Cohen and Andrew McKillop, Palgrave 2012