Any other business

The triumph of nuclear weapons – and the defeat of nuclear power

Plus: France’s gift to English taxpayers; and the case for charitable maniacs

15 August 2015

9:00 AM

15 August 2015

9:00 AM

‘I visited the black marble obelisk which marks the epicentre of the explosion, and I saw the plain domestic wall-clock retrieved intact from the rubble with its bent hands recording the precise time of day when the city was obliterated: 11.02 a.m.

I was glad to be alone, because I could not have spoken.’ Published here 20 years ago, that was my memory of Nagasaki, the target on 9 August 1945 of the second and last nuclear weapon ever deployed. The subsequent seven decades of non-use of nuclear arms — deterred by that most chilling of threats, ‘mutually assured destruction’ — is one of the miracles of modern history, given the unsafe hands in which much of the materiel was held. The sadness is that the opportunity for peaceful use of the same science to provide sustainable, abundant, non–carbon-based power has been gradually muddled away by underinvestment and political shilly-shallying.

In Japan, the entire nuclear industry has been shut down since 2011, when a tsunami led to meltdown at Fukushima, mass evacuation, and the discovery of serious safety faults even though no one died of radiation. Prime minister Shinzo Abe has pressed for a restart, to reduce Japan’s energy import burden, and a reactor at Sendai became the first (of 48 across the country) to resume operations this week. But with echoes of 1945 as well as Fukushima fresh in mind, the Japanese public remain anxiously unpersuaded by statistics of nuclear safety.

Meanwhile in Germany, nuclear power is due to be eliminated by 2022, and the Grafen-rheinfeld station that has supplied Bavaria’s factories for the past 35 years closed in June. In America, too, there’s a growing sense that the nuclear lobby has lost the argument: in an energy scene transformed by cheap fracked gas and advances in solar technology, several new nuclear schemes have been scrapped; the few still going forward are all behind schedule and over budget, and state governments have repeatedly been asked to bail out operators whose existing plants have become uncompetitive.

As for Hinckley Point, the only new nuclear project in hand in the UK, there are continuing doubts over the viability of the chosen European Pressurised Reactor model (which has had problems in France and Finland), the timetable for construction, and a guaranteed ‘strike price’ per megawatt hour of eventual output which is twice the current wholesale price of electricity. Yet without it, and others like it, our lights look likely to go out in a generation’s time.

The nuclear reaction is nature’s most potent generator of energy. As a lethal weapon, humanity has handled it well; as a source of power for all other purposes, we seem to have made a complete hash of it.

Marché a la baisse

In my Dordogne retreat, I see tourist businesses struggling and I’m sad to report that the bellwether of local enterprise, our village marché gourmand nocturne, is a much reduced affair, riven by mysterious fallings-out. Combined with the tyre-burning ferry strikers of Calais, this confirms the impression of a sullen, dispirited, stuck-in-the-mire French economy — and part of the problem is that so many of the country’s citizens with talent and resources that might make a difference are choosing to leave.

Le Figaro offers statistics on the growing exodus of wealthy taxpaying households: for those who previously paid more than €100,000 of income tax, the number of departures was up 40 per cent in 2013 over 2012, and three times the number for 2008; for those who paid more than €300,000, the rate of increase was even steeper, while the exodus of wealth-tax payers, worth an average of €6.6 million each, has been rising steadily by 15 per cent a year — and the number of returnees is tiny.

Figaro doesn’t try to guess where the leavers are going, but illustrates its analysis with a picture of ‘La City, quartier des affaires de Londres’. Obsessed as we are by the social costs of immigration, it’s worth noting that the 300,000 French men and women who have opted to live and work in London represent an enormous fiscal transfer from their state to ours.

Maniacs wanted

‘A bold community project needs a maniac in charge,’ said the consultant who came along, 23 years ago, to write a feasibility study for what is now our thriving Helmsley Arts Centre in Yorkshire, but was then a derelict building and a collective dream. In the absence of other candidates, I became that maniac for a while: the dream became a reality, and I met many people more maniacal than me who were bringing their own community projects to life against the odds. I think, for example, of Arc Light, a charity for the homeless in York, of which I became a trustee: driven by Jeremy Jones, a former music-industry executive whose empathy with his troubled clientele and determination to do more for them was truly remarkable, it secured government support to move from a grotty old railway building to a new 35-bedroom facility that set a national benchmark for the sector.

So the powerful (and perhaps overpowering) personality of Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of the now closed Kids Company, comes as no surprise. But neither does the allegation of weak financial management, which often goes hand in hand with charismatic leadership unless trustees exercise a very firm grip. No surprise also that politicians queued up to associate themselves with her work, and turned a blind eye to warnings that all was not well: for here (as with Arc Light, but on a far bigger scale) was a prime example of the third sector filling a gap in social provision more effectively than the public sector ever could.

But let’s hope the Kids Company debacle does not bring a backlash of even fiercer compliance demands on charities of all kinds, and even more hoops to jump through in order to gain access to public funds. Most maniacs deserve encouragement, even if they sometimes make mistakes.

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Show comments
  • Bonkim

    Whichever you look nuclear is far too expensive.

    • Tamerlane

      Thank God for cheap cheap wind turbines.

      • Bonkim

        Cheaper but much smaller capacity and intermittent and would require back up of fossil or nuclear. Ultimately all fossil fuels will run out even if environmental impacts are contained and only way out is to drasticall reduce population and consumption.

        • Tamerlane

          It was a tongue in cheek comment.

          • Bonkim

            No one solution – and as coal is being phased out need for large nuclear whatever the cost.

      • Observer1951

        Not to mention highly efficient and able to run 24/7/365!

  • GRLCowan

    Polling of the Japanese public has been being done by an extremely antinuclear press. One of their polls, done when, as now, two reactors were operating, found no support — none at all, nada, zip — for any increase in this number. The poll options may have had something to do with this:

    Respondents were asked to pick their preferred scenario from among five choices on the future of nuclear energy in this country. Nuclear power generation should be: “stopped immediately,” “stopped before 2030,” “stopped in the 2030s,” “stopped after the 2030s,” and “continued without being stopped.”

    In recent major elections, the people have consistently taken the least antinuclear candidates they could get.

  • dado_trunking

    Whatever way you look at energy – it’ll soon end badly.

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      Jeremy will reopen 20 coalmines soon.

      • dado_trunking

        It’s what UKIP wanted. Take note voters.

        • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

          Make vote noter’s. Vote Corbyn.

          • Geo

            Don’t be ridiculous. You can make up as many conspiracy theories as you like about why the mines were closed, but you know the real reason. They just aren’t worth it.

            And why is he in favour of reopening the uneconomic mines, but opposed to viable and cleaner fracking on environmental grounds?

  • Tamerlane

    Why not just take the trident subs, park ’em off the coast of wherever, hook ’em up to the national grid and hey presto two birds with one stone and out of sight out of mind. All problems solved. Genius me.

    • DaveCrouch

      This is not such a daft idea it might appear at first glance. Rolls Royce make superb nuclear power plants which power the latest generation of hunter-killer submarines. They are inexpensive, safe, well tried and made in Britain. They could be easily adapted as local power sources for a medium sized city.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Unknowingly Martin, you’ve hit the nail between the eyes. The reason uranium reactors were pursued over an alternative, as example thorium, was the weapon potential.
    Jack, the Japan Alps Brit

    • greggf

      Thorium reactors Jack, all use (fissile) uranium as fuel. And as useful in a weapon as Uranium and Plutonium….
      Thorium is not fissile.

    • Dogsnob

      Nails don’t have eyes.

  • erikbloodaxe

    We shouldn’t make any ‘compliance demands’ on charities at all – beyond the laws that we all have to live by. ‘Charity’ now covers a multitude of activities, including political lobbying, distribution of taxpayer funds (with a little off the top for expenses), promotion of special interests – and some good works. Just abolish the tax advantages (while cutting taxes generally), and the Charities Commission with it.

  • greggf

    Nuclear electric power is one of those issues that politics is hostage to fortune (and its inverse); including immigration, Islamophobia, global warming, political correctness, multi-culturism, holocaust….
    Maybe you can think of others?

    • Geo

      Those issues have as much to do with nuclear as they do with any other source.

  • sidor

    There are technical means to make nuclear power 120% safe. Without much of additional cost. We are dealing with a case of mass hysteria of dumb and poorly educated population scared to death by green propaganda. Possibly, it is also instinctive phobia of anything related to advanced science.

    • Molly NooNar

      Yes, it was green saboteurs I tell you!

      • sidor

        Nice that you don’t disagree.

  • jim

    Fracked gas has problems of it’s own…is there even enough of the stuff to last a generation? Wind power is a bust.When are we going to stop pretending that the wind generation lobby is anything more than just a scam to bleed taxpayers?…. Solar Power? Here?….I would concentrate on coal and spend money to research the most effective way of dealing with the pollution…and nuclear must be an option. The Japanese have not given up on nuclear power.They know they can’t. Sooner or later everyone will have to face facts….. even Germans.

    • Molly NooNar

      I think you should look at the life cycle costs of the things you are talking about. The massive health consequences associated with coal. The radioactive legacy of nuclear and the increasingly more efficient renewable energy sources.


    Martin Weyer, an arrogant, unionist BRITNAT who doesn’t even understand the difference between England and the UK.


  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “and the discovery of serious safety faults”
    Keep in mind GE supplied the Fukushima reactor.

    • lojolondon

      Actually, Fukushima is a great advert for nuclear energy, and a major blow to the green lobby – a 40 year old plant with known weaknesses suffers a major flood that affects all power supply to said plant, resulting in catastrophic failure. Over several weeks there were multiple failed attempts to rectify the situation, attended by all the warnings and “told you so” of the doomsayers. The result? No deaths, no injuries. Not one. A great reality check for the actual, true safety of nuclear power.

    • Bertie

      The fundamental issue is where they built the reactor – on a fault line.

      “Why Do We Build Nuclear Power Plants In Stupid Places?”

      This , above all else, was the reason for Fukishima. Not faulty equipment, not personnel oversight – just plain stupidity in its location on a fault line.

  • van Lomborg

    Are we exploring the alternatives to nuclear power? Where? How? I would like to read about that – to find out what you guys actually know.

  • sidor

    There is 710 000 000 cubic km of water in the Pacific.

    There is 3.3 tons of Uranium in each cubic km of sea water.

    The stupid Japs could have droped the faulty reactor and all the waste into the ocean. Amen.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Could manage without the racial slurs, sidor.

      • sidor

        I didn’t say anything about their racial distinctions. I just indicated two obvious facts: those operating Fukushima were (a) definitely Japanese and (b) definitely stupid. You can easily find the same amount of stupid Brits or Germans.

    • Molly NooNar

      and destroyed the marine environment that feeds their country? Not sure radioactive sea weed or green glowing mussels would be on my wish list.

      To many libertarians not wanting to deal with the cost of their own mess it seems.

      • sidor

        Out of the 3.3 tons of Uranium contained in a cubic km of sea water, 24 kg is the vicious U235 isotope. Enough to make a couple of A-bombs. Do you feel scared?

    • Phyllyp Sparowe


  • Terry Field

    This article is yet more marketing and hot air – not physical reality.
    Catastrophic climate change avoidance requires an immense increase in nuclear power generation.
    End of.
    (probably too late now though)

    • sidor

      A nice example of a useful conclusion from an imbecilic assumption.

      Would be nice if the AGW paranoia could transform itself into pro-nuclear lobby.

  • Otto von Bismarck

    France’s gift to English taxpayers? Why are Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish taxpayers exempt from this?

  • Mary Dohnalek

    My problem with nuclear energy is its waste which is radioactive. I don’t know how England handles its nuclear waste. The USA hasn’t found a permanent solution. Science [10 July 2015 – vol 349 – page 132 – 135] discussed the problem and reported that the USA is considering placing the waste in bore holes at $40 million per bore hole.