Tuesday 8 January 2008

History, thrift and nuclear energy

Say what you like about New Labour, under either Blair or Brown, and you come back to two extreme truths about them: they are extreme modernists and obsessive utilitarians. Their blind spot, therefore, is history. They don’t believe in it or understand it. Hence Iraq, and goodness knows how many other misjudgements which a simply knowledge of history would have avoided.

This also applies to recent history. They don’t remember what went wrong with nuclear energy last time, don’t even think it’s important to know, don’t see that it’s relevant. My feeling is that, despite their announcement, only one or two new nuclear power stations will actually be built, and for the same reason as before:

· The vast expense: nuclear energy is not economic if you include decommissioning, security and insurance (nuclear power stations are not commercially insurable, for obvious reasons).

· Public concern about the vats of high level nuclear waste, hanging around waiting for some kind of viable storage solution.

· The terrorist threat, to the plutonium, the waste and the power stations themselves.

In the end, just like last time, the Treasury will pull the plug – but we will have wasted tens of billions and maybe another decade to invest in efficient decentralised energy systems.

But it does provide a political opportunity for the Lib Dems to revive the traditional Liberal campaign for thrift. Look at the waste, after all: nuclear energy (£15 billion), ID cards, NHS computer fantasies, Iraq, bailing out Northern Rock. Isn't there some kind of theme emerging here?

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