Nuclear energy is not “clean”

The leaders of the world gathered their propaganda machine last month to discuss what lies to tell the working class about how they will combat climate change.

Britain was among those at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (nicknamed COP26) in October and November. With a history of polluting industry as well as coal and iron mining, it has also invested in “clean” nuclear energy. But just how clean is this energy if they speculate about places in Ireland in which to dump the waste?

In 2019 the BBC reported that “Northern Ireland tourist sites are among the potential locations for a nuclear waste dumping ground.” The potential sites included the Giant’s Causeway and the Sperrin Mountains. This show of continued British imperialism was not welcomed by the local councils or the working-class population, as mass protests took place. The district councils of other counties were asked to join in protesting against the construction of these waste facilities.

The nuclear power industry has been looked to as a source of “clean” energy, as it does not produce carbon dioxide. However, waste is created as the uranium becomes depleted but is still radioactive. If this radioactive waste is preferable to an environmental disaster, why must Britain find somewhere outside Britain in which to dump the waste? It’s nothing short of Britain’s continued imperialist interests within the working-class communities of Ireland.

Britain’s first nuclear plant was Calder Hall, now called Sellafield, in Cumberland. In November 2020 a report was published on the British government’s web site ( that said that “plugging a leak has set Sellafield on a path to a safer future.”

But what about its unsafe past? In Dundalk, the number of cancer cases rose by 12 per cent after a fire in the power plant in 1957. British scientists and nuclear enthusiasts have denied the possibility that Sellafield could have caused this. A nuclear engineer, Paul Howarth, has also rejected the possibility of Sellafield causing problems on Ireland’s east coast, despite research by Prof. Peter Mitchell of UCD that says otherwise.

Howarth also failed to acknowledge the leakage of nuclear waste in 2005 when the British government removed 20 tonnes of uranium and plutonium. It has claimed that it would be too dangerous to decommission Sellafield; what does that say about the so-called clean energy of nuclear power?

The resources that are used within nuclear power plants are uranium and plutonium, which are mined by American and Canadian corporations in Africa and South America; and while those places have the resources, the transnational corporations get the profits.

If we look at France, which exports energy throughout the European Union, with the massive amount of energy made by nuclear power, even during the current energy crisis its resources for this power come from the exploitation of Africa.

The Canadian nuclear energy company Orano operates the mines of the Société des Mines de l’Air (Somair) in Niger. It extracted 1,900 tonnes of uranium in 2018, with more than half the company’s income going to France. It is projected that the use of plutonium in France will be as high as 11 tonnes by 2025.

Plutonium and uranium come from Africa and are finite resources, showing capitalism’s huge lust for the planet’s resources and the uncaring nature of the system we live under. The continued exploitation of countries in such places as Africa and South America by American, Canadian and European powers for their own prosperity leaves those countries with nothing but devastation.

This is partly why Ireland cannot look to nuclear power. We cannot become part of the imperialist problem by looking to Africa, South America and eastern Europe for the resources we would need. Ireland’s resources are already being used and looked at by the imperialist powers of Britain, the United States, Canada, and the European Union. The British plan for dumping-grounds in such places as the Giant’s Causeway and the Sperrin Mountains shows us where we would have to look to dump our waste.

Ireland must look instead to actual renewable and clean energy, such as solar and wind power and hydroelectricity. We must protect our natural landscape from becoming waste facilities, and we must protect Earth’s resources from being further overexploited by capitalism. Only a socialist system can truly create the energy systems that we need to combat climate change and the plundering of Earth’s natural resources.

But this socialist system has to be based upon a working relationship with the Earth system. We cannot make the same mistakes that socialist countries made in the past, nor can we continue to consume the amount that the capitalist system does.