Coal isn't the climate enemy, Mr Monbiot. It's the solution
We must draw on existing resources as part of an integrated enrgy policy, not flirt with nuclear, the most dangerous option.
Has George Monbiot sold out on his environmental credentials or is he suffering from amnesia? In his article on these pages last Tuesday he states that he has now reached the point where he no longer cares whether or not the answer to climate change is nuclear - let it happen, he says.
Has he not read the evidence presented by environmentalists such as Tony Benn and me at the Windscale, Sizewell and Hinckley Point public inquiries? Is he unaware that nuclear-power generated electricity is the most expensive form of energy - 400% more expensive than coal - or that it received £6bn in subsidies, with £70bn to be paid by taxpayers in decommissioning costs? Is he unaware that there is no known way of disposing of nuclear waste, which will contaminate the planet for thousands of years? Has he forgotten the nuclear disasters at Windscale, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl?
We are facing an economic and political crisis on a scale similar to the Wall Street crash in 1929, the mass unemployment which affected the UK and Europe in the 1930s and the energy crisis in the early 70s.
We are facing a monumental energy crisis, yet we live on an island with more than 1,000 years of coal reserves from which we can provide all the electricity, oil, gas and petrochemicals that people need, without causing harm to the environment. Britain - despite its massive indigenous deep-mine coal reserves - has never had an integrated energy policy based on coal and renewables, and as a consequence we are now facing the worst energy crisis in our history.
Since the end of the second world war, both Labour and Tory governments have sought to replace Britain's vast coal reserves with a false promise of "cheap" imported oil, "cheap, safe" nuclear energy and "cheap" natural gas - policies that have not only cost the British people billions of pounds, but resulted in the near-extinction of Britain's deep-mine coal industry, the virtual exhaustion of North Sea gas and oil, and massive economic costs and environmental problems associated with nuclear power.
After the closure of 192 pits since 1980, the loss of 170,000 jobs and the closure or non-operation of nearly 70% of coal-fired power stations on the false premise that they were uneconomic and the worst polluter of carbon dioxide, it is reasonable to expect that there would have been a dramatic fall in CO2 emissions. But in fact CO2 emissions have actually increased - not that surprising, since more than 80% of CO2 emissions are produced by oil and gas from power stations, road transport, industry, shipping and domestic use. That fact alone should cause Monbiot to rethink.
Britain needs an integrated energy policy that will produce 250m tonnes of indigenous deep-mine clean coal per year - from which could be extracted all the electricity, oil, gas and petrochemicals that our people need.
All existing and new coal-fired power stations should be fitted with clean coal technology - including carbon capture that would remove all CO2 - and at the same time we should be developing a massive renewable energy policy based on wind, wave, tide, barrage, hydro, geothermal, solar power, together with insulation, conservation and reforestation.
We must end the import of coal, (currently 43m tonnes a year) which is produced by subsidies, "slave labour" and child labour, and end the import of shale oil, tar sands and other so-called unconventional oils, which are the dirtiest fuels on the planet but are being used to produce electricity.
We still do not know - because of the security and secrecy laws - the full extent of the disaster at Windscale (Sellafield) in 1957 or Three Mile Island in the US in 1979, but we do know that the incidence of cancer and leukaemia - particularly among children - is 10% higher in or around nuclear power stations, and we know from experts such as Robert Gale - who treated the victims at Chernobyl in 1986 - that more than 100,000 will die over a 30-year period.
We need an end to all nuclear-powered electricity generation, the most dangerous and uneconomic method of producing electricity. We need an end to deforestation, which is the cause of 20% of CO2 emissions worldwide, and an end to biofuel development - which not only produces substantial CO2 emissions but is causing mass starvation and higher food prices throughout the world.
Only by the introduction of a real integrated energy policy based on clean coal technology and renewable energies, can we begin to meet the needs of people in the UK and throughout the world.
I challenge George Monbiot to test out which is the most dangerous fuel - coal or nuclear power. I am prepared to go into a room full of CO2 for two minutes, if he is prepared to go into a room full of radiation for two minutes.
Arthur Scargill, Socialist Labour Party.
President of the National Union of Mineworkers 1982-2002