It is a little known fact that Labour governments have brought forward the vast majority of pro-nuclear policies during the history of the industry in Britain. Clement Attlee’s government – faced with an American government that withdrew from nuclear cooperation after the second world war – created the Windscale plant in my constituency in the far north-west of England, on the edge of the Lake District. This act created the British industry as we now know it. It was Harold Wilson and Tony Benn who took the decisions to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and the Blair and Brown governments which launched Britain’s new nuclear renaissance, creating the framework for the multi-billion pound decommissioning industry.
As a third-generation Sellafield worker, I was delighted to play a role in helping to draft the pro-nuclear energy policies before us today and Labour’s commitment to the industry is now more purposeful than ever before.
Consider for a minute, our nuclear communities. Think of where they are and what they are like. As a rule of thumb, our nuclear communities are peripheral communities with fairly low levels of population, found on the coastline and, by definition, far removed from our major conurbations, powerful economies and centres of power.
In many of these areas, times have been hard for a long time. Typically these areas are vulnerable to market failure and reliant upon low wage service sector jobs and public sector employment. The shrinking state and continuing demographic shifts of working age people away from these areas already presented profound challenges before the global crash of 2008, but this intensified such processes in these communities.
Now, imagine turning the clock back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s and imagine explaining to the people of these communities and their civic leaders that the nuclear plant you wanted to build on their doorstep was a guarantee of long-term economic activity. It would provide well-paid jobs for generations, the infrastructure investment it would leverage would be significant and they would be undertaking a nationally vital role. Perhaps they would not have believed you. In any event, most nuclear communities, while benefiting from the nuclear industry, have never really managed to seize the opportunities that their local industry provided them with.
Jump forward to today and consider those same communities in the context of their own needs, our national needs and some of the biggest policy challenges facing any government: energy policy, economic policy and environmental policy. Today, we should see these as complementary, not competing policy areas. In no other industry are these three areas most comprehensively and effectively addressed than through the nuclear industry.
Today new nuclear energy should help us to secure our energy supplies, reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, revitalise our manufacturing and engineering sectors and help connect our businesses and workers with global opportunities in the sector. On the ground, the provision of well paid jobs, creation of intelligent supply chains, establishment of new education, training and research facilities and the necessary infrastructure improvements in the communities where new nuclear is being established should be transformational.
In my constituency, the home of Britain’s energy coast, we intend to emulate Silicon Valley. We aim to be and global centre of excellence for the nuclear industry. This means becoming a magnet for investment; it means developing a physical, economic and civic environment the envy of any comparably sized United Kingdom community; it means growing our regional economy through nuclear investment. Similar opportunities are realizable through nuclear decommissioning supply chains – in some cases greater ones.
All of this helps to achieve one of the most important policy challenges facing our country: the rebalancing of the economy. Rebalancing from service sector and financial sector jobs – all of which are important – towards a new, physical, high skills based economy. It also means rebalancing our economy so that economic growth does not just rest upon our established metropolitan areas, in particular the South East, and towards those peripheral economies in the north, south, east and west of our country.
Labour’s commitment to economic growth in these areas could not be stronger. But there are few industries comparable with nuclear that can deliver this regional growth.
Jamie Reed MP is the Labour member of parliament for Copeland. He tweets @jreedmp
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