There was good news for businesses (and domestic householders) last week when it was announced that the Torness nuclear power station in East Lothian would have its life extended to 2030.
The move will not lead to lower electricity bills but at least it should help minimise the possibility of winter blackouts, about which there have been increasing warnings as the UK continues to dither over nuclear energy policy, closes down the few remaining coal plants and worries about the unfulfilled promise of thousands of wind turbines increasingly industrialising the countryside.
Longannet power station in Fife is due to close next month, thus contributing to the loss of 16Gw of coal-fired electricity across Great Britain over the past four years. Events such as this prompted Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford university, to tell the Financial Times that the UK was “sailing very close to the wind” in terms of energy supplies.
Politically, blackouts have focussed on the harm to domestic consumers, however in terms of the wider economy, the more serious potential consequences affect businesses.
According to an analysis by the insurance company, Allianz, the cost of typical industry losses per blackout event are: semiconductor production, 3.8m euros; computer centre, 0.75m euros; steel works, 0.35m euros; and glass industry, 0.25m euros. For financial trading it is even worse – 6m euros per hour.
So almost every business in Scotland – from the corner shop to Standard Life – should welcome the life-extension to Torness.
Encouragingly the reaction has been favourable although there have been exceptions, of course, from the usual anti-nuclear suspects. Among them was Fiends of the Earth (editor: this is not a typo), whose director in Scotland, Richard Dixon, said: “Nuclear power is on its last legs in Europe and the UK Government needs to refocus on energy efficiency and renewables instead of continuing to chase the nuclear dream.”
Strange that an organisation allegedly committed to the welfare of the countryside and wildlife should be so opposed to carbon-free nuclear power yet support the carpeting of areas of natural beauty with inefficient wind turbines which chomp birds to pieces and the noise of which sends ground creatures crazy.
However for all the annoying ability of the environmental lobby to delay much-needed projects, those more culpable are the establishment political parties and their obfuscation, while in government, over energy policy.
If you exclude the current stop-start saga over the proposed Hinkley Point C in Somerset, it was almost 30 years ago (1987) that a nuclear power station was last approved in the UK – Sizewell B which was commissioned in 1995.
It is noteworthy that the owner of Torness which authorised the recently-announced extension is EDF, a French company whose ultimate shareholder is the government of France.
How sad this is given that Britain was the pioneer in peaceful nuclear energy – a perfect example of ‘swords into ploughshares’ – and opened the world’s first station, at Calder Hall in Cumbria, in 1956.
For a long time we continued to lead the world but many see the decision of the John Major government to privatise the industry in the early 1990’s as removing the political and financial impetus to build three more nuclear stations based on Sizewell B.
Now, not only is Hinkley C not certain to be built but if it is, the former nuclear world-leader is having to rely on French expertise and Chinese finance.
The French, despite their reputation as airy-fairy romantics, have shown themselves to be hard-headed realists by building sufficient nuclear capacity to provide 80 per cent of the country’s energy needs.
Even in Germany, where Green harpies have bullied the government into embarking on a complete nuclear closure scheme, new coal-fired stations are being built at a steady rate – in comparison to Britain, where coal-burning capacity has all but ended, thanks largely to a fixation with carbon-capture targets which many other countries simply ignore.
Torness has sufficient capacity to power half the homes in Scotland and provides 500 mainly-skilled (and some very highly-skilled) jobs in East Lothian. So news of its extended life should be welcomed both nationally and locally.
But what would be even more welcome is a decision to plan, design and build a “Torness B” to ensure the lights keep blazing long after 2030.
And though a ‘Scot-Buzzer’ strongly committed to the ethos of private enterprise, I believe that if re-nationalisation is the only way ahead for a nuclear power revival in the UK, then so be it.
THE JOY OF MY FEDORA
Last September the Daily Mail informed readers that men’s hats were about to make a comeback.
This form of headgear was common for about two-thirds of the 20th century and seemed to make a sudden disappearance somewhere around the mid-1960’s – perhaps it can be pinpointed to 1964,with the defeat of the Conservatives under Sir Alec-Douglas Home, last of the “old Tory” prime ministers, and therefore the passing of an age.
Anyway, autumn has come and gone and we are now three-quarters of the way through winter yet I can see no evidence of the Mail’s prediction, at least not in urban Scotland.
True, the Mail story had first appeared in Country Life so perhaps there has been a revival in hats in Highland Perthshire or the rolling countryside of East Lothian but I doubt it. I frequently witness rural toffs emerging from their 4 x 4’s on Edinburgh’s George Street. They are easily recognisable by their green quilted body-warmers, rustic corduroy trousers, plus fours and brogues yet very rarely do you see one wearing a hat.
Which is disappointing to this regular hat-wearer. Not only does a fedora finish off an overcoat and business suit, it is practical too, keeping the head dry when it rains and warm when cold.
That the ‘titfer’ (from rhyming slang, tit for tat - hat) is a minority garment nowadays is evidenced by the comments mine invariably attract. While most are complimentary even some of these have a sting in the tail. Such as: “Like the hat, Ken – I wish I had the courage to wear one.”
Ironically, while fedoras have decreased in popularity, the same cannot be said of other forms of male headgear. For example, no one bats an eyelid at baseball caps, continental-style bonnets, ‘Comrade Lenin’ caps, Cossack hats, beanies and ski hats. Also perfectly acceptable are those multi-patterned, multi-coloured, woolly llama hats, with two strings and pompoms – so similar to the knitted bonnets mothers used to place on the heads of toddlers on cold winter days in the 1950’s and 60’s.
It’s all very strange. Almost as strange, in fact, as that other growing fashion phenomenon: young men who like to show off by going about town in the middle of winter in shorts (and, on occasion, flip flops).
But don’t get me started on that one.