Friday, 26 August 2016

Nuclear Deja Vu

In his Business Commentary (‘Power play,” August 26 Alistair Osborne rightly highlights conclusion of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a non-profit organisation, that there are “cheaper, quicker and simpler alternatives to Hinkley C”.

He gives £18 billion as the projected cost, while other estimates put it at £37 billion over its lifetime, including annual subsidies. He also that Hinkley could provide “7 per cent of Britain’s energy needs,” whereas the correct figure is 2.6 per cent of energy needs, as Osborne has conflated energy with electricity.

This debate reminds me of the dispute over the projected merits of the Sizewell B nuclear plant thirty five years ago, when, in May 1981, the then national watchdog, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission published an analysis on the nationalised electricity generator, the Central Electricity Generating Board, (CEGB),  concluded:

 “A large investment in nuclear power stations, which would increase the capital for a given level of output, is proposed on the basis of investment appraisals which are seriously defective and liable to mislead. We conclude that the Board’s course of conduct in this regards operates against the public interest.”

I invite the Prime Minister’s current review of Hinkley C, with its inbuilt massive public subsidy, to reach the same conclusion, for the same reason.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Corbyn's correct condemnation of human rights abuses by dictators militarily backed by Britain

Letter to the Times:

Oliver Kamm  (“Corbyn’s pacifism is the ultimate betrayal,” The Times, 22 August, makes the most extraordinarily inaccurate criticism of Jeremy Corbyn in asserting “he is incurious about the outside world.”

The demonstrable truth is Corbyn is probably the most internationalist of all MPs. Let me highlight just one of many international matters with which he has politically engaged while in Parliament, when many  MPs have ignored them.

in Halabja, in Kurdish Iraq, on 16 March 1988 nearly 5,000 civilians were killed on the spot. A further 10,000 were left with serious injuries that affect their lives to this day.

Within a week, Jeremy Corbyn, as a humble Labour backbencher, had raised the plight of the Iraqi Kurds in Parliament, drawing attention of Government ministers to his early day motion (EDM) no.868 which asserted in part “that this House [of Commons] is alarmed at the continuing persecution of Kurdish people in Iraq ..demands that Her Majesty's Government request the United Nations to send an independent mission to Iraq to seek safeguards for the Kurdish people and that the International Red Cross be requested to send essential supplies to save the lives of Kurdish people in Iraq” (Hansard, 24 March 1988;

Subsequently, Corbyn, representing one of the areas in the UK with the highest concentration of Kurdish and Turkish inhabitants, regularly drew attention to the Kurdish repression in Iraq, eg in an other EDM (No.867 on 15 March 1994 – backed by 35 mainly  Labour MPs - that recalled “ with horror the gas attack against the people of Halabja in 1988 by the Ba’athist regime of Iraq”

In a Parliamentary debate on Kurdistan three years ago Corbyn recalled a delegation he and fellow Labour MP Ann Clwyd led in the months following the Halabja massacre to both the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry “to suggest that we should not take part in the Baghdad arms fair in 1989. “ He noted “We suggested that they should suspend all arms trade with Iraq and were rebuffed by [Conservative] Ministers on that occasion.” (Hansard, 28 February 2013: Column 543)

Corbyn added “we both frequently raised the issue, including in the British media. Although the lack of knowledge among much of the public is understandable because of how the media failed to report things, we must be honest that it took a long time for most of the media and the political establishment in this country to cotton on to what was happening to the Kurdish people in Iraq. To be honest, a lot of British Government policy was blindsided by their obsession with supporting Iraq.” (Hansard, 28 Feb. 2013: Column 551)

But the US Pentagon "wasn't so horrified by Iraq's use of gas," one of the veterans of the US Defense Intelligence Agency programme later told the Times. "It was just one more way of killing people-whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn't make any difference."(Dissent Magazine, Summer 2003,

American political historian Roger Morris, in a revealing Op-ed analysis (A Tyrant 40 Years in the Making,” New York Times 14 March 2003, wrote

“As its instrument the C.I.A. had chosen the authoritarian and anti-Communist Baath Party, in 1963 still a relatively small political faction influential in the Iraqi Army. According to the former Baathist leader Hani Fkaiki, among party members colluding with the C.I.A. in 1962 and 1963 was Saddam Hussein, then a 25-year-old who had fled to Cairo after taking part in a failed assassination of Kassem in 1958.”

That is, Saddam, the mass murderer, was “our” dictator.

Corbyn has regularly raised the rights of the dispossessed, such as the Ilois people of Diego Garcia in the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, forcibly removed from their homeland in the late 1960s  to make room for a British military airbase (currently loaned to the US for nuclear-armed long –range bombers) and other downtrodden people whose voice would otherwise never be heard.


Thursday, 18 August 2016

Nuclear never is what it looks like....

Letter to the Daily Telegraph:

In Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s interesting article on nuclear past and possible nuclear futures (“ Britain should leap-frog Hinkley and lead 21st Century nuclear revolution, Daily Telegraph, 18  August he  misleadingly asserts: “Our Queen opened the world's first nuclear power plant in 1956 at Calder Hall.”

Her Majesty did indeed open Calder Hall, on the Sellafield site ( then called Windscale). But  Calder Hall was not a normal nuclear power plant, but a plutonium production plant run by the UK Atomic Energy Authority for the Ministry of Defence to provide nuclear explosive materials for nuclear warheads.

This fact  was clearly stated at the time of the plant’s opening, in a remarkable little book entitled Calder Hall: The Story of Britain’s First Atomic Power Station, written by Kenneth Jay, and published by the Government’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell to mark Calder Hall’s commissioning, when Mr Jay wrote:

“Major plants built for military purposes such as Calder Hall are being used as prototypes for civil plants . . . the plant has been designed as a dual-purpose plant to produce plutonium for military purposes as well as electric power . . . it would be wrong to pretend that the civil programme has not benefitted from, and is not to some extent dependent upon, the military programme."

I would also  be sceptical about the claims of the promoters of a potential atomic alternative to Hinkley C. Such pies-in-the-sky options have been postulated for decades; and any projected costs of electricity from such fantasy reactors is pure guesswork, always erring on the optimistic low end of the scale.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Avoiding atomic anhiliation

Letter to the Times:
Your leader (“Obama’s Folly,” August 16, ends by asserting “A doctrinal statement that rules out any first use of nuclear weapons provides no obvious benefit.”
Dr Ira Helfand, co-president of the respected International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, explained why a no-first use policy is the rational first step of de-escalating reliance on nuclear weapons for  national or allied defence, in the New York Times this  week, writing:
“For 70 years we have treated nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantor of our security. That view is fundamentally wrong. The nuclear nations have come perilously close to using these weapons on a number of occasions, (as was reported in the New York Times on Nov.2015, “NATO War Games Unwittingly Put Soviets and U.S. on ‘Hair Trigger’ in ’83, Analysis Suggests,” and have been saved, not because nuclear weapons possess some magic power that prevents their use but because of a string of incredible good luck that will not last forever. (“Questions About America’s Nuclear Policy,” New York Times, August 16,
Backing Dr Helfand is Dr Lisbeth Gronlund, a former MacArthur Foundation fellow in international peace and security at the University of Maryland and a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Defense and Arms Control Studies Program, and currently co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who argues in the same newspaper: Before he leaves office, President Obama should eliminate launch-on-warning options and remove American land-based missiles from their current hair-trigger posture.”
It is thus clear several security experts come to the opposite conclusion to your leader: it benefits the avoidance of nuclear war by error.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

How Labour wins elections with radical propositions to the electorate

Letter sent to The Times:
Your leading article “History Repeats Itself (The Times, 10 August, ) asserts: “There is no prospect that a manifesto of nationalisation and ending the nuclear deterrent can win electoral favour.” History suggests otherwise.

Labour\s 1964  General Election manifesto stated “We are against the development of national nuclear deterrents” (

Labour’s October 1974 Manifesto for the second election held that year pledged to: “Set up a British National Oil Corporation to. enable the Government to exercise participation rights; to play an active role in the future development, exploration and exploitation of offshore oil; and to engage in the refining and the distribution of oil.” (

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Chinese nuclear whispers getting louder

A shorter version of this was submitted as a letter to the Editor at the Financial Times:
The article by his excellency, Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese Ambassador to the UK (“Hinkley Point is a test of mutual trust between UK and China,” August 9, is both important and disturbing.

It is important because it contains a veiled threat at the end of his  commentary warning that “As long as both sides cherish what has been achieved and continue to expand and deepen our co-operation across the board, bilateral relations will maintain their strong momentum and work for the wellbeing of both the Chinese and British people,” with the unstated hint that unless this continues to China’s satisfaction, other financial, investment and business  co-operation could be impacted.

It is disturbing because the Ambassador makes a number of unsupported assertions in regard to nuclear safety in China and nuclear safety and security regulation in the UK. Both are open to challenge.

On regulatory issues, the Ambassador asserts: “The UK has a state of the art supervision regime and legal system.”

However, at a meeting in Manchester last October, executives from the UK nuclear regulator , the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), revealed to  representatives from environmental  stakeholder groups  that they now have to encourage the industry’s economic growth in addition to promoting safety. 

But to be independent and effective, surely the ONR needs to stand up to Government pressure to act as an arm of the nuclear cheerleaders at the Treasury, and carry on implementing the robust UK nuclear safety rules. Nuclear industry regulation is totally unsuitable to the Business Department’s misguided crusade to cut red tape in regulations.

During the Manchester meeting, the ONR seemed to be dangerously edging towards the corporate financial interests of the nuclear industry rather than the public interests of ensuring national nuclear safety.

At the same time, minutes of a ONR board meeting, (held  on 13 October last year), revealed  "DWP [ie  the Department for Work & Pensions , which sponsors ONR)  has been tasked with saving £590m by mid-2019, and this target will include the activities of ONR. The board set a very clear expectation that ONR would need to contribute to the efficiency savings and that we needed to be looking for efficiencies across all of ONR and not just the back office functions."  (emphasis added)

On Chinese nuclear safety, the Ambassador states: “China has a fine record of 30 years of safe operation of nuclear facilities”

Not all agree. In a little noticed article published nearly three years ago, nuclear Industry veteran Li Yulun, a former vice-president of China National Nuclear Corp  (CNNC) told the South China Morning Post : "Our state leaders have put a high priority on [nuclear safety] but companies executing projects do not seem to have the same level of understanding,"

Moreover, In what he considered to be another sign that China has been rushing into a new technology, Li Yulun noted that Britain's ONR had rejected Westinghouse's bid to supply reactors (in June 2011), citing some "unresolved technical issues".

He also quoted Westinghouse's head of its British unit Mike Tynan as having said that a significant amount of work needed to be done on the safety front, while Chinese nuclear safety regulators already approved it several years earlier.

(“China nuclear plant delay raised safety concern,” South China Morning Post, 7 October 2013,
The Ambassador further asserts: “There have also been extensive and thorough discussions by all involved and in the media regarding the project’s cost-effectiveness, its timeline and the safety of the technology.”

But to date no Chinese officials have met with the ever-growing group of concerned local citizens in the Blackwater estuary area in Essex, where the Chinese want to build their first UK reactor at Bradwell,

Monday, 8 August 2016

Fracking's Russian Roulette

The latest “community support” offer from the Treasury (“Fracking payouts condemned as ‘bribes’,” Guardian, 8 August )  for those areas having fracking rigs  installed in their neighbourhood is truly a ‘Russian roulette’ gamble for local people.

This is what the final report of Public Health England ( the heath watchdog)  - Review of the potential Public Health Impacts of Exposures to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of Shale Gas Extraction Process (published in October 2014)  stated: "If the natural gas delivery point were to be close to the extraction point with a short transit time, radon present in the natural gas would have little time to decay...there is therefore the potential for radon  gas to  be present in natural gas extracted from UK shale."   (

Moreover, an article in the Washington Post on April 10 last  year (“Rise of deadly radon gas in Pennsylvania buildings linked to fracking industry,

(” reported a detailed study in the journal, Environmental Health Perspective, that revealed a “disturbing correlation” between unusually high levels of radon gas in mostly residences and fracking that has become the industry standard over the past decade.

The researchers found that, in the same areas of the state of Pennsylvania as the fracking operations, there was a generally higher reading of radon - with about 42% of the readings higher than what is considered safe by federal standards.

The researchers also discovered that radon levels spiked overall in 2004, at about the same time fracking activity began to pick up.

At the end of July  2013 the Communities Department published its Revision of building regulation policy on radon. In the impact assessment it explains the reason for the revised regulation is:


Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas linked to lung cancer. Alongside a health and awareness programme and testing and remediation of existing buildings, current Government policy includes targeted intervention through the Building Regulations which requires radon protection in new buildings in areas of elevated radon risk….We intend that the Building Regulations and supporting statutory guidance is clear on current radon risks, and ensures buildings are fitted with proportionate measures to prevent the ingress of radon and thus reduce radon-related lung cancers. ”


It later adds “The respective cumulative risks of lung cancer [from radon exposure] affecting people by age 75 years in the UK at 100 and 200 Bq m-3 are 0.42% and 0.47% for non-smokers and 17% and 19% for continuing smokers.”

It also states boldly: “The chosen policy will maintain a targeted regulatory intervention (aligned to the most up-to-date radon maps), to ensure that all buildings in higher-risk areas incorporate appropriate radon measures.”

In light of this clear precautionary approach, it is odd that all ministers seem to be uncritically cheerleading for expanded fracking, despite its possible radon risk.


Thursday, 4 August 2016

The evidence is Corbyn is a very successful election winner

Letter sent to the "i" newspaper:
The sub-headline of Andrew Grice’s analysis of the prospects for the Labour Party leadership (“Corbynmania, round two,” "I" 4 August) read ”Fans are adamant he can win power. MPs know he cannot.”
The article provides no basis for this assertion. Those Labour MPs who oppose Corbyn’s socialist leadership have claimed ever since he was elected 11 months ago that he is a hopeless leader, who cannot win elections.
The real world belies this belief. He has increased his own personal percentage majority in Islington North constituency from  40.4% when first elected in  1983, increasing  in each subsequent election to  60.24% in last year’s general election.
In the past year Labour has won all four by-elections to Parliamen, (Oldham West and Royton,  Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, Ogmore, and Tooting - geographically well dispersed - and several important mayoralties under the Corbyn leadership, including London and Bristol.
Meanwhile many of his  election critics backed Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, as ministers or shadow ministers, both of whom lost in General Elections. And Corbyn beat three of these to  win the leadership election itself last summer.
The facts suggest Corbyn is a very strong election winner, Labour dissidents please note.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

How first Hinkley reactor was weaponised

Letter sent to the Daily Mail:
Your short history of British nuclear power accompanying your extensive coverage of the Hinkley Point sudden vote face postponement (Mail, 29 July) wrongly described the Calder Hal plant at Sellafield ( then called Windscale) as "the world's first full-scale nuclear power station."
It was indeed opened by the young Queen Elizabeth on 17 October 1956, but it was never a commercial nuclear plant
In fact it was clearly stated at the time of the plant’s opening, in a remarkable little book entitled Calder Hall: The Story of Britain’s First Atomic Power Station, written by Kenneth Jay, and published in October 1956 by the Government’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell to mark Calder’s commissioning.  Mr Jay wrote:
“Major plants built for military purposes such as Calder Hall are being used as prototypes for civil plants . . . the plant has been designed as a dual-purpose plant to produce plutonium for military purposes as well as electric power . . . it would be wrong to pretend that the civil programme has not benefitted from, and is not to some extent dependent upon, the military programme."
Interestingly, the first – nominally commercial - reactor at Hinkley, the Magnox ‘A’ plant, was operated for military production purposes too.
The first public hint came with a public announcement on 17 June 1958 by the Ministry of Defence, notably not the Ministry of Fuel and Power that oversaw the civilian nuclear programe -  on:  “the production of  plutonium suitable for weapons in the new [nuclear ] power stations programme as an insurance against  future defence needs…” in the Hinkley reactor. .
The Government made this request in order to provide the country, at comparatively small cost, with a most valuable insurance against possible future defence requirements. The cost of providing such insurance by any other means would be extremely heavy.”
Hansard 24 June 1958  columns 246-8).
With the current confusion over Hinkley’s latest promised reactor, the murky military history of the site should not be forgotten.