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Paul Mason's Idle Scrawl

If Phil Anschutz built power stations…

  • Paul Mason
  • 10 Jul 06, 05:07 PM

sizewell_pa.jpgThe long-awaited Energy Review will be published tomorrow. Nobody I know in the industry claims to have seen it, but there was a selective leak to the Observer Business section which revealed:
- they will build six 1.6mw nuclear power stations
- there will be a hefty bung to the renewables lobby to avoid the charge that renewables will lose out as money is spent on nukes.
The aim, as desired by the generation industry, is to make nuclear “economic” not by subsidising but by raising the price of carbon permits so that it looks cheaper than gas. However there are problems...

...what many in the power industry want is detail, not commitment in principle – they cannot make investment decisions on the basis of a principle. The new carbon pricing arrangements need to be spelled out in detail – but of course they cannot be because they rely on a EU wide carbon emissions trading scheme. Because the UK is committed (see David Miliband last week) to high carbon prices there is a clear signal there, but a) there is no bipartisan commitment and b) the world price of carbon may go down if there is no successor to Kyoto.

Watch tomorrow (Tuesday) for a deft Tory tactic: Alan Duncan (shadow trade and industry secretary) is on record as not being committed to nukes on economic grounds. The cross-party energy committee of MPs said today the review has been done too fast and with too little cross-party involvement. So the Tories can extract maximum political advantage from being seen as open to argument on nukes while Labour’s backbenchers (not even invited to talk about the review over warm white wine and stale parma ham) seethe at the government's newfound certainty.

Oh, and my industry-watching sources say the specificity of the 1.6mw capacity in the Observer leak shows that the chosen model is the Areva (there is a rival Westinghouse design with smaller generating capacity). This is the real meaning of the Blair-Chirac deal last month: Areva is part owned by the French state and, claims my informant, effectively subsidised by it. So even though British taxpayers will not be subsidising new nuclear build, the French taxpayer might be.

A great coup for cross-channel relations: to secure Britain’s energy security, the design and economic performance of our future nuclear generating capacity will be handed to, er, France.

Still the 1.6mw Areva design means there only need to be six new power stations built instead of 10 on the Westinghouse design. After tomorrow, all the government has to do is work out where to site them. As one Docklands resident put it to me: “be thankful that Philip Anschutz does not build nuclear power stations”.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 09:23 PM on 10 Jul 2006,
  • Eric Dickens wrote:

This is going to be very interesting indeed, over time. The bit which interests me most is the last bit about joining up with the French. Britain and France love to bicker and bring up ancient battles, but what is now at stake is the future of our economy and even our standard of living, civilisation, whatever.

Whether the French taxpayers are going to be thrilled about subsidising Perfidious Albion is a moot point. But we are all in an increasingly difficult position with regard to energy supply: the Middle East and Russia are unstable. Any major sulk with either geo-political entity could make Western Europe even more vulnerable than it already is.

We all love the Yanks, and they us, but are they going to have enough spare gas, oil, whatever, to send a bit over the pond during a major crisis? Fiddling about with the price of carbon fuels is, no doubt, good economics in peace time, but should there be war with Iran or an Islamist coup in Saudi, we'll need all the fuel we can lay our hands on, however polluting it may be.

Nuclear power plants take years to build, so the investment must be clear, reliable, unequivocal and quickly in place. If you have too many year-long committees involving all parties and being jolly fair to the renewables lobby and so on, we may already be in a major fuel crisis with our trousers half down, i.e. our expensive and not-yet-working power plants only half built. Time is of the essence ("essence" is French for petrol, by the way).

We therefore have to think about a major geo-political reality: can we rely on the French more than the Russians, or the Americans, to provide us with fuel when we need it? We can save a bit by doing a Justin Rowlatt, but this is a serious dilemma for industry and transport in a country of some 60 million people, not the Isle of Man.

This is a very interesting article. Here in America, we are trying to look for alternative fuels since petrol increased to almost $4.00 a litre.

  • 3.
  • At 01:22 PM on 11 Jul 2006,
  • Matthew Adams wrote:

The current price of a *gallon* of car fuel in the US averages around $3.2 on the West Coast, and $2.90 overall.

The average price of a gallon of car fuel in the UK is currently $6.58 (at an exchange rate of 1:1.84) - or more than twice that of the US.

While high gas prices do have a marginal effect on consumption, they tend to penalize the poorest in the community - especially through indirect mechanisms e.g. increased transport costs passed on to the consumer.

"Alternative" fuel may have some impact on fossil fuel consumption and carbon emmission in the US and Europe, but cultural and lifestyle changes are more important.

A culture where an SUV is not seen as a status symbol, but as a marker of a selfish and destructive character would, maybe, be heading the right direction.

Consumers are only a part of the problem, of course, and long-term solutions to the energy demands of business (such as the radical steps being taken by companies like DuPont at high initial costs) are equally important.

  • 4.
  • At 09:47 AM on 12 Jul 2006,
  • Gavin wrote:

The Areva EPR model has a capacity of 1.6 GW (gigawatts) - see your own link above.

You probably meant to write 1.6 MW (megawatts), which underestimates the capacity of a nuclear power station by three orders of magnitude. Even a large modern wind turbine can generate well over 2 MW of electrical power.

A pedant would also insist that capitalization of SI units is important: a lowercase "m" prefix means "milli", or one-thousandth of a unit; capital M is used for mega (a million units).

They might also point out that the watt is abbreviated to the uppercase W, and a space should separate the number and the symbol. For more on the joys of SI writing style, see:

  • 5.
  • At 01:48 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Eric Dickens wrote:

Comparisons are made difficult when so many units are employed. Oil is knocking $76 per barrel, things are measured in gallons in one place, in litres elsewhere. As we see from Gavin's recent posting, people are nonchalent about GWs and MWs, and we now know that capital letters mean something. And there are dollars, euros, pounds.

Would it not be nice if standardised units are used so that we intelligent lay people, neither technicians nor economists, could make rational judgements?

One layman's question from me: why is car fuel twice as expensive in Britain as opposed to the USA? What are the mechanisms involved?

Given the war in the Lebanon, and its instantaneous effect on oil prices, as I read in the Belgian press just now, we'd better start making those energy solutions, that have been kicked into the long grass for decades, something of a greater priority.

Forget Blair's career for a moment, and think of the energy interests of 60 million people over the next decades, which could be quite stormy in the Middle East where we get a lot of fuel from. And surely a rise in oil prices directly affects the relative cost of cleansing fossil fuels and keeping them as an option, the relative cost of nuclear waste disposal, the relative cost of renewables.

Are our economists taking realities such as war, blockades, people blowing up pipelines, Russian blackmail, and other real-life things into account when doing their costing calculations?

  • 6.
  • At 10:03 PM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Eric Dickens wrote:

I hope some of you economists, scientists and geo-politically inclined intellectuals watched the Horizon programme just now (21:00-21:50, 13th July 2006) on BBC2 about the detrimental effects of low doses of radiation exposure. We don't, of course, know who paid for it, and the Greens are bound to say immediately it was part of a secretly funded propaganda drive by the nuclear lobby, but it did make me think.

The conclusion was that up to a certain threshold, radiation does not cause the damage to living creatures (including human beings) that popular myth thinks it does, implying that there was an enormous amount of hysteria surrounding the Chornobyl disaster in 1986.

This has significant implications for the promotion, or rejection, of nuclear power as a fuel for Britain over the next few decades. I hope Britain can keep away from party-political point scoring and get on with securing our power supplies. (Though saving energy is just as important as it always was.)

I don't want to have to pedal a generator treadmill in ten years' time, each time I want to use my computer or watch telly. (Books I can read by candlelight.)

  • 7.
  • At 01:09 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Eric Dickens wrote:

So: what's happened with all the powerful intellects on this blog, people with all those cerebral and complex good ideas? Watching CNN (I don't restrict my viewing to the BBC), I see that share prices appear to be universally down. Everybody knows that if the war spreads to Syria and, less likely, Iran, oil prices will go through the roof.

While everyone is wittering on about megawatts (mega-whats?), the price of fuel could start a mini-recession. Unless the IDF is kind enough to stop its anti-terrorist activities on Wednesday, that is.

What are the real-time solutions, o great wisdomic gurus of economics? Because as no one was prepared for the IDF-Hizbullah showdown, no one managed to build a few reserve nuclear power stations or get the windy-whirlers and Cameroonian roof panels going. The only solution is, of course, the politically unpalatable, but Realpolitikally realistic, one of sucking up to Czar Putin in the hope that he won't sulk and cut off oil supplies to his greatest allies (lick, lick, we are your friends, o great Russian prince of intelligence and beauty) and then muddle along as usual.

Let's face it, we don't care about the GuLags and Russian slavery, as long as we have enough fuel to warm up the chip pans and laptops.

Yours cynically, dot-dot-dot...

The Horizon programme on Chernobyl failed to emphasise the huge economic loss the incident causes and still levies. For example the milk supply from the region near the station was abandoned. All local food had to be tested for radiation. Dykes were built around it to stem the contamination of the Dnieper, which flows through Kiev to the Black Sea. In the USA over 70 spent nuclear fuel ponds offer mini-Chernobyl's if their stirring and cooling electricity supply fails allowing them to run dry. Low level radiation? No, thanks!

The US introduced us to the barrel (159 litres) which is 42 US gallons which are only 3.8 litres, compared to the Imperial gallon of 4.54 litres.

Instead of the petajoule (PJ = joule x 10^15) the US uses the quad which is a quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTU x 10^15) for energy.

Gas is measured in billion cubic feet (bcf) instead of billion cubic metres (bcm)

The degree fahrenheit and inches are used in rocket technology.

Confused? If I got the above wrong maybe Matthew Adams will correct it.

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