“Reinvigorate north with nuclear power stations, says Dominic Cummings.” Or rather so says a headline in The Times today. In fact, if you read the piece by Oliver Wright (who probably won’t have written the headline) the actual story is about a paper by the Sheffield University academic Richard Jones, which was mentioned favourably by Dominic Cummings during the election campaign. (UnHerd covered the story earlier this month). A new generation of nuclear power stations is one just one of the advanced technologies that Professor Jones says that the government should consider as part of a massive investment programme. However, the emphasis is on new. The current generation of nuclear power stations — such as the Hinkley Point C project now unfortunately underway is going to do nothing to reinvigorate the economy of Northern England. Hinkley is, of course, in Somerset. The technology is French. The investors Chinese. And given how expensive and economically risky nuclear is compared to rival technologies, other proposed nuclear new build projects, such as Moorside in Cumbria are going nowhere fast. If we’re going to use energy investments to boost regional economies then we’d be better off looking at advanced technologies were the North is already excelling — like offshore wind, for instance. It’s not greenery that’s driving the mass deployment of renewables anymore, but cold hard economics. Investing in the technology required to manage their variable output is where the future lies now. Professor Jones may have a point in regard to small, modular reactors — which might be able to avoid the problems associated with the current generation of nuclear white elephants. However, commercialising the new tech would require a big R&D effort — and there’s no guarantee that anywhere in the UK has a competitive edge in this field. If we are to develop a UK-based nuclear industry then let it be in the decommissioning of clapped-out power plants and the safe disposal of radioactive waste. Given the vast global mess left behind by this filthy industry, making the most our own clean-up expertise could be a major export opportunity. So, in bringing a new economic vision for the North, I hope that Cummings will bury nuclear, not praise it.
Unherd 19th Dec 2019 read more »