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Sunday, 22 July 2012

China in the Driving Seat

It has been made known during the past week that the British Department of Energy and Climate Change [in my childhood, it was the Ministry of Fuel and Power] is in discussion with Chinese authorities with a view to installing Chinese-built nuclear power plant - funded by Chinese capital - in the United Kingdom. German and French companies have progressively drawn back from making any definite offers to construct the next generation of nuclear power plant for their UK subsidiaries as the euro crisis has developed and the probability of making a profit from providing electricity in the UK has diminished.

Britain was the world leader in nuclear research until the Second World War when a cohort of her leading experts in applied nuclear energy were exported, with their knowledge and their plans, to the safer territory of the USA to contribute to the Manhattan Project with the leading American experts. The rapid success of that exercise, enabling the first atom bombs to be used in anger in 1945, was significantly due to the British input: though the USA undoubtedly put in the greater intellectual resources as well as the funds that carried the project forward. At the end of the war some Britons came home; but the Americans embargoed any export of the technology, even to the UK which had freely contributed all that it had available. The Atlee Labour government decided that they must have nuclear weapons if they were to keep Britain as a power in the world, and despite the postwar austerity regime the funds were found to make a new start to bring this about. The civilian application of nuclear power was already projected, and nuclear-powered vessels - especially submarines - came on the planning horizon.

Thus Britain became a nuclear power, originally alongside only the USA and the USSR, in both military and civil applications. Nuclear power came into supply in just two decades after the war: with the power stations build by British firms with access to sufficient British [state] capital. Then it all went wrong.

Successive governments of both major parties cut back spending on the nuclear sector, as on defence generally, as they took up the socialistic agenda of subsidising unearned incomes for both the employed and non-employed members of society. The 'green' lobby emerged, with their profoundly irrational loathing of nuclear energy, and politicians could feel better about about allowing the UK to fall behind in this area of technology on the grounds that they were recognising ecological considerations. Facilities for designing nuclear installations were diminished and then stood down, and the residual capability to design and build nuclear power plant was sold abroad. In no area of economy or military technology has Britain more shamefully and shabbily sold out the future that in nuclear power and weaponry. The nuclear missiles carried on British submarines are bought from the USA and the suppliers hold a veto on their use: so the idea of an 'independent nuclear deterrent' is a sour joke.

And now the shabby political dwarfs who form the coalition government have admitted that the future 'mix' of power supplies in the UK must include a nuclear component: so they are toting around the possibility of profiting from British consumers - with cast-iron guarantees that they will make a profit on the whole venture, including eventual decommissioning - to the countries that have developed nuclear power-plant construction over the same period as Britain has withdrawn from the field. It is increasingly obvious that even with massive subsidies and fake pricing models the windmill obsession will be a costly disaster; before metal fatigue cuts short the estimated 'life' of twenty-something years for the turbines.

So the nuclear option becomes more obviously necessary: as it is accepted as a 'given' that the country has no capacity to produce the generating capacity itself; though that it not strictly true. Rolls Royce's residual capacity to provide nuclear propulsion for submarines could, with sufficient drive and resourcing, be scaled up massively. Just as most English water consumers pay for the profits of foreign-owned companies, so buyers of electricity largely do the same; and will do so even more in future if the present approach to the nuclear option is pursued. There is no better or clearer example of the devastation that has been caused to the real economy by the consensual all-party shambles that the politicians have delivered over the past half-century.

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