Is there no British company that is so strategically important to the UK that it mustn’t be sold to overseas interests?
Even if the eventual purchaser didn’t want to acquire the whole of British Energy, that stake alone would bring with it great sway over British Energy’s plans.
The important facts about British Energy are that it owns eight of the UK’s ten operational reactors and most – or possibly all – of the sites for the next generation of nuclear plant.
Or to put it another way, if you agree with the government that nuclear is the power source of the future, because of its low emissions and putative reliability, then it’s hard to think of a company more vital to the future energy security of the UK than British Energy.
Does that mean we should be concerned that British Energy could be owned by French, German or Spanish interests?
Nuclear is, of course, a highly regulated industry. So perhaps the British interests that matter can be protected by regulation rather than insisting the owner should be British.
And maybe the entire issue is already a red herring, since British Energy will not be building the new nuclear plants alone anyway, but would only do so in partnership with overseas companies such as EDF.
Or to put it another way, since our nuclear future depends on overseas capital and expertise, the nationality of British Energy’s owner may already be irrelevant.
Perhaps the more important question is whether selling the stake would confer excessive clout to the new owner in the contest to build the new reactors.
But here’s a thought to ponder. Is there any conceivable, realistic vision of the future of Europe in which it would be possible for British interests to own nuclear plants in Germany, Spain or France?
Would their governments ever allow a UK company to own even a single nuclear reactor on their soil?
And if the answer to that is “no”, are they mad or are we mad?