Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Chinese to place nuclear devices around Britain

Brian Wheeler Political reporter, BBC News, asks: Is it a good idea to allow China a stake in UK nuclear? (BBC News Website 17 October 2013).

It is 57 years to the day since the Queen threw a lever to start electricity flowing from the world’s first civil nuclear power plant, at Calder Hall, in Cumbria.

If you had told any of the dignitaries present that day that Britain would one day surrender control of its nuclear industry to foreign powers, losing in the process the ability to build its own reactors, they would have thought you were mad.

But we have long got used to the idea that Britain is no longer an industrial powerhouse.

So why should we be concerned that China, a former Cold War enemy, has been given the go-ahead to invest in new nuclear plants?

I suspect that it would take a while to turn a nuclear power station into an effective nuclear bomb, but as we have seen in Fukushima, Japan, it does not take much to convert one into a rather nasty source of widespread pollution. This can happen through accident, through incompetence in either building or operating, or in theory by intention.

This government has a habit of (and dare I say an apparent liking for) privatising profit and nationalising losses and liabilities. Until recently, privatising profits has usually been to the benefit of either the government’s friends in the city or (for Royal Mail) those who can rustle up £750. Nuclear Power, however, is slightly different to the Royal Mail. OK, both will probably end up with some form of revenue protection (from the tax-payer), but nuclear power leaves a legacy for centuries after operation (and profit-making) has ceased. This makes any form of privatisation problematic – I cannot see any way that we can bind a private company for centuries to look after the decommissioning and waste management processes. It is too easy to take the profits and then liquidate.

To privatise anything to a country that has a fundamentally different world view to us – and to whom we are increasingly in debt – seems stupid. To allow them to have their hands around our economic throat through ownership (and hence control) of a significant part of our national infrastructure seems exceedingly stupid. To allow them to build and operate nuclear devices around our country seems beyond exceedingly stupid.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, quizzed about the China deal on his weekly LBC radio show, summed up the government’s laissez fare approach.

“If people want to come here and build safe sustainable low-carbon ways of generating energy without dollops of British taxpayers’ subsidy in a way which is entirely regulated by us, where the rules are set up by us, not in Beijing, then of course that’s something we should be open to.

“Because we’ve got to keep the lights on and we’ve got to protect the environment.”
BBC ibid

I am not convinced, it feels like a form of national debt-bondage.

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