Friday, April 29, 2011

Strip the subsidies from nuclear power

Financial Times on April 25 in an editorial headed “Time to revive, not kill, the nuclear age” advocated reviving nuclear power, whilst bemoaning that this is going to be another bad week for the nuclear industry. On top of the continuing radioactive releases from the Fukushima plant, the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster is providing anti-nuclear campaigners with a rallying call, the editorial regretted.

In a reader’s letter, Dr Yousaf Mahmood Butt of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics retorted thus:-

I would, perhaps, support your viewpoint if the nuclear industry could revive itself without massive government subsidies.

In the US – the biggest user of nuclear power – the industry  receives huge ongoing insurance bail-outs under the 1957 Price-Anderson Act. This outdated legislation limits the liability of the nuclear industry in the event of a major nuclear accident and artificially cheapens the price it pays for insurance. As a result,  nuclear-derived power itself is artificially cheap, one reason that it continues to displace renewable in the not-so-free-market.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) reports that many nuclear suppliers have said that “without Price-Anderson coverage, they would not participate in the nuclear industry”.  If an industry that has benefited from massive government research and development and other subsidies for more than five decades, and which creates staggering unresolved waste disposal problems, raises proliferation issues, and poses serious risks to human health, cannot survive without government support then, perhaps, it ought not to survive.   

Applause. But also uneasiness. And my uneasiness is that by expressing the argument in this way you pander to an underlying assumption that energy ought to be provided by a free market. The complaint raised is that governments by subsidising nuclear are interfering with this free market. I actually make no complaint about governments subsiding cleaner energy. Let them distort the market I say. The point is that the subsidies ought to be redirected to renewables, and to energy efficiency, and to reducing energy use.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal wedding - what surprise is in store?

Last night on BBC television, the BBC's royal correspondent (Nicholas Witchell I think) said we should all be ready for a surprise.  Maybe he used the word wow factor, I'm not sure. So he knows something. What? Two possibilities present themselves. One is that Kate Middleton will upstage Sweden’s Princess Victoria by parading up the aisle with William, and will thus abolish at a stroke the repugnant tradition of the bride being given away.  That’s unlikely.  To be fair this is a much bigger ask in Britain than it was in Sweden where the giving away tradition is not actually embedded.  I discussed this Swedish controversy last year.

Wedding scene from Ang Lee’s Sense and
. Emma Thompson as Elinor
The other possibility is she won't wear white. Ang Lee’s 1995 film of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, which ends with a double wedding, has both sisters in their colourful finery; and I found out from Bath’s fashion museum the other week that the first white wedding dress in their collection is 1828.  The commentary said it’s unknown exactly when and why white became obligatory but it was thought to be around that time, that is to say roughly 15 years after Austen wrote the novel.

So having assured everyone that you’ve got to be joking if you think I'm going to be watching the royal wedding,  I might just have a peep at the entrance ceremony to see if I'm right about either of these outlandish suggestions.

As a final comment, I notice people in Ireland tend to refer to the forthcoming event as “the royal wedding”. Even RTÉ presenters and correspondents do so. Which some find annoying, and rightly so in my opinion, as the correct phrase would be “the British royal wedding”.

Subsequent note , Friday, April 29 : No surprise. I was misled. Ah well silly me I allowed my imagination to run away with me. Just the same old royal wedding stuff.