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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL #280 - Energy Choices: Power to the people! (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]

Date Sun, 11 Mar 2018 11:05:01 +0200

Most often, an environmental problem is also a social problem. We can go further: to discuss energy is to ask the question of the modes of political organization that we want to defend. ---- Without much surprise, the Minister of Ecology Nicolas Hulot, liberal star of the ecology in cardboard (recycled, certainly), announced in November 2017, want to postpone for a decade the decrease below 50% of the share nuclear power in the French energy mix. This decision is political, but not only because it is the prerogative of the ruling class, or because environmental issues concern us all. It is also tantamount to deciding the very form of power that will be exercised during these ten years of postponement - and well beyond. ---- Energy choices and forms of power ---- When discussing energy choices, it is often in terms of ecology that one argues for or against a certain form of production or a particular technology, from the point of view of the damage done to the environment and their social consequences. But one can engage the reflection in another direction, and measure the energy choices with the yardstick of the political form that they presuppose, in parallel of the strictly ecological aspect of the discussion [1]. By following this path, the environmentalist Denis Hayes predicted in the 1970s [2]that " the proliferation of nuclear power plants can only lead society towards authoritarianism. Indeed, nuclear power can not be safely relied on as the main source of energy except under the yoke of a totalitarian state . " That same year, the German Robert Jungk tried to think under the name of " nuclear state " [3].

The maintenance of 58 reactors operating in France requires a certain number of social conditions. Given the difficulty and danger of uranium mining, the formation of a technocratic elite at the top of an unshakeable bureaucracy appears necessary to concentrate the knowledge, the material means, and the impersonal inertia required by such exploitation. Moreover, this political form is required in the long term: the dismantling of a power plant can take up to 30 years, and the first five years are critical: this is where the most dangerous radioactive material is removed. We do not come out of the nuclear power without risking a catastrophe, so we risk not being able to get rid of the form of power that accompanies it immediately. But indestructible technocracy is only one aspect of the affair. Think about the risks of sabotage of nuclear power plants. Or all the plutonium, reusable waste from the power stations, which is reprocessed in the factory of La Hague and is shipped throughout the country in leaded cars: just divert a little to start manufacturing an incredibly dangerous bomb. The protection of power stations, radioactive material trains, landfills must be absolutely foolproof, or millions of lives will be endangered, which only a fully centralized military control seems able to implement. It is easy to imagine that if plutonium were to be stolen, for whatever reason,

To extend France's commitment to nuclear power by ten years is, in a way, to install for ten more years an ultra-centralized technocratic and military power. For much more than ten years, in fact, if we add the fact that the nuclear output is made in the long term - without the waste issue is ever fully resolved - and that such a state must be stable by definition.

Solar energy, more naturally decentralized
The political question also arises for other sources of energy. Regardless of their disastrous environmental record, can coal, oil and other fossil fuels be used massively by the multinational predators of capitalism that we know ? It may be less easy to answer than for nuclear power, but extracting, processing and transporting large volumes of fossil fuels will require a certain concentration of material resources and a fairly vertical hierarchy.

On the other hand, can we think of forms of energy production that would be strongly compatible with emancipatory political forms?? The same Denis Hayes vigorously defended solar energy, more naturally decentralized, both technically and politically, since - as for wind power or hydro, could we add - it is quite possible to build a multitude of panels and turbines of various sizes, and to manage them locally. On the one hand such a network would be much less likely to catastrophic global failure and therefore would not require the security of a centralized management, and secondly it would not require a large concentration of technical resources and knowledge. More local, accessible, comprehensible and controllable, regardless of their strictly ecological virtues, these energies would accommodate more democratic political forms.

When statist communists today promote nuclear power, this is tantamount to sending the state's decline back to a distant future. Conversely, it is also naïve to ignore that the time of the dismantling of power stations, the nuclear power will carry forms of centralization. More positively, to impose solar, wind or hydro where possible is also anchor forms of energy production that will in the future more easily reappropriate. Energy is a question of power.

Marco (AL92)

[1] The content of this article is largely inspired by Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor: In Search of Limits in the High-Tech Times, Paris, Descartes & Cie ., 2002, and Murray Bookchin, For a social and radical ecology, Neuvy-en-Champagne, The Underground Traveler, 2014.

[2] Denis Hayes, Rays of Hope: The Transition to a Post-Petroleum World, New York, WW Norton, 1977.

[3] Robert Jungk, Der Atom-Staat: Vom Fortschritt in die Unmenschlichkeit, Munich, Kindler, 1977.

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