Listening to the people

Because I was unhappy with the tortuous ambiguity of what Rhun ap Iorwerth had said about nuclear power in his first public statement on the subject in the Daily Post last week, I set out what I had hoped he would say about it in my post of 30 June.

Fair play to him, Rhun has now gone some way to address these points in his election blog, here. I'll reproduce it in full, because it is important to put things in perspective and stress that nuclear power is by no means the only issue in this by-election. I agree fully with him that the main priorities are jobs and the economy on the island, and that any discussion about nuclear power in general, or the proposal to build Wylfa B in particular, must be put into that context.

Listening to the people of Anglesey

I have reported on countless elections as a reporter, but after four days of campaigning as the Plaid Cymru candidate in Ynys Môn, I now know that nothing compares with being really in the thick of it. Nothing compares with the pavement pounding, the buzz and excitement of working as part of a large team of volunteers, and nothing compares with meeting a voter, looking them straight in the eyes and listening to what's important to them.

When I was selected as the Plaid Cymru candidate, I said that my priorities are jobs and the economy, and already it's becoming clear that these priorities are shared by the island's residents.

Yes, there are other problems. I have already visited a number of homes for the elderly, where staff and residents are concerned about the future of their homes. We must protect them as vital assets for the island. I'm being asked to do all I can to help small businesses, to protect school budgets, to oppose new electricity pylons, to look after farmers' interests. The list is long. I hope to have an opportunity to write about some of these matters over the coming weeks.

I will deal now, however, with one issue linked closely to my top priorities. That is Wylfa, and my position is clear and firm.

Quite simply we must listen to the people of Anglesey. Yes, I hear concerns and I am keen to reflect those – valid concerns about waste and safety, long-term costs and demographic effects. But I hear clearly from the island's residents that we cannot ignore the potential for local jobs – long-term jobs that pay well – as well as the implications for businesses that could benefit from the development.

It is not London, but we in Wales who should decide on energy policy, but if Wylfa is to be developed, only we in Plaid Cymru will work hard to ensure that the interests of the people of Ynys Môn and Wales are considered and protected to the greatest extent possible.

Only Plaid Cymru will fight to ensure that the well-being of our communities are considered. Only Plaid Cymru will press for answers to the questions about safety, cost and waste. Only Plaid Cymru will genuinely fight for jobs for young people on this island. The economy must be the basis of language planning in future. We must stop the exodus of young people from our island.

Wylfa is not the only economic answer, and should be just one element of careful long-term planning which would also include being innovative in the field of renewable energy and the green economy.

I will do my best to listen to the people of Anglesey between now and August 1st, and the debate on Wylfa will be just one element of the campaign. I'm putting my fellow islanders first, but I believe that winning in Ynys Môn is also crucial to Plaid Cymru's challenge to take Wales on to the next step in its development.

Rhun ap Iorwerth's by-election blog, 2 July 2013

I warmly welcome some of the things Rhun has now said. It is particularly important to say that decisions about energy in Wales should be made in Wales rather than in Westminster, and it is particularly important to acknowledge that issues such as the long-term costs of dealing with toxic waste are real problems that have not been properly addressed in the proposals as presented.

But it must also be said that Rhun has not made his position either clear or firm on the fundamental question of whether he supports or opposes Wylfa B. Instead, he says that he will listen to the people of Môn.

OK, let's do exactly that.

A survey carried out by Bangor University in 2010 showed that:

91% thought renewable energy was a good or very good idea. Only 2% didn't.

People put solar power, wave machines and windfarms ahead of nuclear power as a way of producing electricity. Only a minority wanted to see nuclear power developed.

74% wanted energy jobs on the island to be created in the alternative/renewable energy sector. Only 35% wanted them created in the nuclear sector.

Bangor University School of Social Sciences, July/August 2010

That should be clear enough to anybody. People in Môn do want to see jobs and investment in energy, but nuclear energy is far from being at the top of their list. A large majority, almost three-quarters, wants that investment in the alternative/renewable energy sector. A minority, only slightly more than a third, wants jobs and investment in a new nuclear power station.


The worst thing a potential politician can do is promise to do something, but then do the opposite. I had hoped Rhun would oppose nuclear energy because he understood the issues involved and had reached his own conclusions about them. But if he ever did do that, he's certainly having problems telling the public what his views are. Saying that you will listen to people and shape your views around what they want is very much second best to having the courage of your own convictions ... but let's see if Rhun will do what he says.

The evidence from the Bangor University survey is clear and objective. So if Rhun is serious about listening to what local people want, it is obvious what he must do. But listening only to views that you are predisposed to agree with, and then claiming your position is based on what that group is saying while ignoring what the majority is saying is a shameful way of doing politics.


This isn't a matter of fine debate, it is a matter that has some very serious, practical consequences. Rhun has said that he wants to address the problems of how to deal with the toxic waste that nuclear power stations produce. Under the current proposals, waste that is very much more toxic than anything Wylfa A produced will have to be stored on site for generations to come rather than taken away for storage and reprocessing.

If this new power station goes ahead, the single most important thing Rhun could do for the sake of protecting future generations is to get Westminster to change their plans and make sure that this toxic waste is taken and stored somewhere else. It isn't just a matter of safety, it's a matter of cost. The extensive safety and security measures required to keep the public safe on an ongoing basis cost very large sums of money. UK governments have consistently underestimated the cost of storing toxic nuclear waste, and have been forced to revise the estimate upwards every few years when it becomes obvious that the previous estimate was wrong. Even though the operators of the proposed new generation of nuclear plants are meant to set aside money for this, it is very unlikely that this will cover the cost, and the public purse will eventually have to pay for it. This cost is something Wales will struggle to afford in future.


Rhun is right to say that Plaid Cymru can press for nuclear waste to be stored somewhere else in a way that Labour can't. But we can only do this by being consistent in our opposition to nuclear power.

If you are in favour of Wylfa B and fight for it to happen, you cannot then argue that you want someone else to relieve you of the consequences of your choice. The Westminster government will turn round and say, "Look, you were the ones who wanted us to spend billions of pounds in Anglesey because you said you wanted jobs in nuclear. We gave you what you wanted. You can't now turn around and say that you want us to take care of the problem of nuclear waste. Toxic waste is an inherent by-product of generating electricity in nuclear power stations. You cannot have one without the other. So you have to live with it."

Labour have nailed their colours to the mast and are now powerless to protect us from the consequences of having to live with this toxic waste for generations to come. We in Plaid Cymru can do better, but we can only successfully press for the toxic waste that Wylfa B produces to be stored elsewhere if we are clear that we never wanted a new nuclear power station in the first place, and had instead put our efforts into fighting for alternative, cleaner ways of generating electricity. Anything else would be hypocrisy.

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Jac o' the North, said...

As with any survey, so much depends on who was questioned, when they were questioned, and what the question was.

It would be possible to get 100% in favour of wind turbines if the question was: 'We shall all die excruciating deaths in temperatures of 150 Celsius unless we have millions and millions of wind tubines. Are you in favour of wind turbines?'

kp said...

Spot on! The fellow comes across as a fraudster.

Normally I'd vote Plaid. This time it's Labour.

MH said...

You mustn't let your hatred of wind turbines get the better of you, Royston. Just click the link to read the questions, see who was asked, and when.


Very funny, KP. You hate Plaid even more than Royston hates wind turbines.

kp said...

Not so 'MH'. I hate Wylva much more than I hate Plaid Cymru. Why, I even joined the party so that I could vote for Leanne Wood because she was a female, a non-Welsh speaker and decidedly anti-nuclear.

Now with all this obfuscating from the likes of this new chap, Rhun, I have no choice but to vote Labour. Not because I support the Labour party, far from it. I just find it hard to accept that Plaid should win with such a duplicitous policy on nuclear.

MH said...

Let's see, KP. You say you're against nuclear, and that you won't vote for Rhun because he's ambivalent about whether he supports it or not ... but that you will vote for Labour even though Tal Michael is outspokenly in favour of Wylfa B.

Why not go and lie down in a quiet room for a while?

kp said...

Duplicity is the issue here. The stance of the prospective candidates of Labour and Plaid are identical. But one candidate is duplicitous!

Duplicitous in this matter, duplicitous in how many other matters? Why, he too may have a holiday home in France and yet I bet he speaks little or no French.

Shambo said...

As neat a piece of rationalisation as I've read in a long time.

Alwyn ap Huw said...

KP if you joined Plaid Cymru to vote for Leanne because she is "a non Welsh speaker" you made a big mistake. I first met Leanne in the early 1990's and she was a Welsh speaker then. Not fluent and not very confident in her linguistic abilities, perhaps, but nonetheless a Welsh speaker.

I oppose nuclear energy, I would prefer that new generation nuclear plants were not built, they are dangerous, dirty and expensive.

The conundrum that I have is that if the British Government decides to build new generation nuclear plants, we in Wales will suffer the downside of building them even if they are built in Lancashire, Gloucestershire or Somerset. We live in danger of Hinkley point and Hasham, we pay the tax subsidies required to redevelop those sites, but we get none of the benefits.

If, against what I believe to be sensible judgement, Westminster goes ahead with a new generation nuclear plants, I would prefer Wales to get some of the benefits by building them in Wylfa and / or Trawsfynydd rather than having to put up with the problems of nuclear energy without having any of the benefits.

MH said...

I have quite a bit of sympathy with what you've said, Alwyn. The question is identifying what the benefits are, what the costs and liabilities are, and comparing the two to decide which is the best option. So I'll try and set out both the pros and the cons as I see them.


Cons first: I agree that there are risks to Wales whether a nuclear power station is built in Wales or somewhere on the west coast of England. It is true to say the proposed new Hinkley C nuclear power station would be closer to a larger number of people in south Wales than Wylfa B would be in north Wales. But even that must be put into perspective. The exclusion zone around Fukushima is 20km, and Barry Island is 23km from Hinkley Point. Heysham is even further away from the north Wales coast.

Nuclear power has safety risks, but the risk of a large-scale disaster is low. However these risks are only low, and can only be kept low, by applying very strict safety and security measures, and these measures cost a large amount of money on an ongoing basis. Nuclear power is not commercially viable, and the risks are not commercially insurable; therefore the public purse of the place in which a nuclear power station is located has to pick up a large part of the costs.

This is the nub of the question. If the costs are paid by taxpayers across the UK, Wales will only pay its 5% of the ongoing cost of (at worst) 8 new nuclear power stations. If Wales is independent it will have to pay 100% of the ongoing cost of one new nuclear power station. If, as I strongly suspect, the UK only commits to building one or two stations, and abandons the rest because the ones that it did commit itself to are behind schedule and are costing far more than predicted (as has happened with every one so far) Wales will be lumbered with an even more disproportionate share of the costs if Wylfa B is one of them.

It should be obvious that if Wales was already an independent country we wouldn't even think of building a new nuclear power station. As we can produce more electricity than we consume from renewables, we don't need to. And we couldn't afford to even if we wanted to.

If the subsidy were only required for building a new nuclear power station, then we might well have a case for arguing that Westminster should spend that public money in Wales rather England (remember that Scotland and Northern Ireland can decide energy policy for themselves). But building a nuclear power station is the cheap part. The lion's share of the subsidy will be required to protect the public from radioactive toxic waste for many generations to come. A nuclear power station (and especially one where the waste is stored on site) is therefore completely incompatible with an independent Wales. It will be a burden round the necks of future generations which we will struggle to afford.

MH said...

Now let's turn and look at the benefits, to see whether these outweigh the costs. Clearly the only possible benefit is jobs; together with the money that those jobs will bring to the area, which will circulate in the local economy and in turn provide more jobs. I can't think of any other possible benefit.

On the subject of jobs, I'd recommend people take the time to read this analysis of how to provide sustainable employment growth in Môn.

The first thing I would emphasize is that no jobs in the nuclear industry will be lost by not building Wylfa B. Wylfa A provided work for about 600 people directly and about another 200 in the wider economy, although this has probably gone down due to the final shutdown of one of Wylfa A's reactors. However decommissioning will, according to Magnox, provide work for between 600-700 people for twenty years ... and further work will still be required after that, but not on such an intense basis.

The second thing to note is that the figure of 6,000 jobs currently being quoted will be, in the main, construction jobs. They will exist only while Wylfa B is being built (let's be generous and say for ten years). Unemployment in Môn is a problem, but the figure quoted in the document is 2,400. Even if we round that up and assume that all these unemployed people will get these jobs (which in itself is highly unlikely) it still means that fully half of them will be filled by people from elsewhere. And what will the local people who did get these jobs do after construction is complete? There won't be any need for so many extra construction workers on Môn on an ongoing basis, will there? So people will either have to move away to find work in that field, or look for other work. That's no different from the situation now! In terms of jobs, Wylfa B is a short-term, unsustainable fix. A sudden glut of short-term jobs will distort the economy and make it harder to grow the long-term, sustainable jobs that Môn (and every other part of Wales) really needs. It will do more harm than good.


So those are the pros and cons. For me, the cons heavily outweigh the pros.

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