Japan’s nuclear renaissance

Japan is reversing its avowedly anti-nuclear stance, restarting idled plants and looking to develop a new generation of reactors, announced Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday. This major policy shift from the world’s third biggest economic power underlines both the seriousness of the global energy crisis and points to the most likely way ahead. This announcement would have seemed unimaginable a decade ago in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which saw the plant flooded and led to three separate hydrogen explosions. Then prime minister Naoto ordered those living within a 12-mile radius of the plant to be evacuated as the Fukushima area was designated a contaminated wasteland. I well remember the

Chernobyl Two?

The electricity supply to the ruined nuclear plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine has been cut off. According to one knowledgeable source I spoke to, this is a serious problem as power is needed to pump water around spent nuclear fuel rods stored there. There is a back-up diesel generator, but it has just one day’s supply of fuel left and once that runs out, the temperature could start to climb. If the water evaporates, the zirconium metal ‘fuel assemblies’ could start to melt – with radioactive material released into the atmosphere. This would not be anywhere near as bad as the original Chernobyl disaster, in 1986, when a reactor had

The nuclear bunker market is booming

As the spectre of nuclear war returns so does another very modern phenomenon: a spike in interest amongst the paranoid rich seeking to procure their own nuclear bunker. Over in Texas – already home to a vibrant culture of ‘preppers’ who spend their time planning for every shade of apocalypse – one creator of custom shelters, Rising S Bunkers, says it’s had a 700pc increase in interest in the last month. Made from long-lasting plate steel, their bunkers are designed to be buried under the average American yard. Of the five units sold last month, the largest fetched $240,000. If you don’t have space for your own bunker – or

Why are we so afraid of nuclear power?

The climate change summit in Glasgow will have one important part of the discussion missing: the role of nuclear power. It seems the government is in no mood for a discussion with the nuclear industry — every one of its applications to exhibit at the COP26 summit has been rejected. That’s a shame, because there are plenty of myths to be addressed. We could discuss the lessons from the plant at Fukushima, seriously harmed by a tsunami in March 2011. Sometime later, two of the reactors overheated, burst and released a small quantity of radioactive material into the environment. At the time of this event, my wife Sandy and I

Who should pay for nuclear?

How much longer is the government going to suppress the cost to households of achieving net zero carbon emissions, or try to imply, as business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng recently seemed to imply on the Today programme, that it won’t cost us at all?  Even as he spoke Kwarteng was working on a new model for the funding of nuclear power stations that was unveiled yesterday in the form of the Nuclear Energy Finance Bill. The proposed legislation will impose levies on energy bills in order to subsidise the construction of new nuclear power stations. The new model of funding — called Regulated Asset Base — will replace the model by which Hinkley

The troubling truth about Britain’s nuclear deal with China

The most shocking thing about the news that the government is looking to remove China from Britain’s nuclear power programme is that it has taken so long. But it will not be a straight-forward process. It will likely provoke tantrums from Beijing, as well as grumbles from a nuclear lobby that will have to find somebody else to stump up the billions needed for their pet projects. China General Nuclear should never have been allowed anywhere near such a critical piece of national infrastructure. The state-owned company has been accused by the US government of stealing technology for military use and placed on a national security blacklist which severely limits

A nuclear crisis is closer than you think

It has long been widely accepted as orthodoxy that the world was saved from nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis because of the wisdom of John F. Kennedy and the diplomatic backchannel his aides had with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. But this is only half true. The Soviet sources that have emerged since the end of the Cold War as well as recently declassified KGB archives suggest that, more than anything, we were saved from nuclear annihilation by sheer luck. In the late hours of 27 October 1962, the crucial day of the crisis, American ships targeted a Soviet nuclear-armed submarine with practice depth charges, forcing it to surface.

Israel’s shadow war with Iran explodes into ‘nuclear terrorism’

If time flows at an even pace, then history does not. Joe Biden may still be new in the job, but he finds himself at the centre of a war between Israel and Iran in everything but name. After a comparative lull, events are not so much accelerating as whirling around the president, drawing him inexorably in. Last night, Iranian officials reported that the Natanz uranium enrichment plant – a lynchpin of its nuclear programme – had been the victim of what they described as ‘nuclear terrorism’. According to US officials quoted in the New York Times, an explosion destroyed the independent power system that supplied the centrifuges for enriching

Building Sizewell C would be a nuclear-sized disaster

I love Suffolk. This Christmas I will be there with my family and we’ll almost certainly walk up the coast, joining dog-walkers, bird-watchers, hikers and even swimmers in one of the most beautiful and unspoiled parts of the UK. The secret of Suffolk is its relative inaccessibility. No major motorway connects it and once you arrive you’re committed to a sprawling network of country lanes that twist through heathland and grazing marsh, mudflats and reedbeds. Minsmere, a nature reserve that’s home to 6,000 wildlife species, is among its glories. The nightjar, the woodlark, the Dartford warbler and the silver-studded butterfly are just some of the rare species found there. At

How many people have swum the Channel?

Journey’s end Holidaymakers are being flown home after travel company Thomas Cook failed. The idea might have horrified the company’s eponymous founder, whose first excursion was a temperance outing from Leicester to Loughborough on 5 July 1841, on a charter train from the Midland Railway Company. All 500 tickets were swiftly sold. A holiday from Leicester to Liverpool and North Wales followed in 1845, including several nights in temperance hotels and a night-time ascent of Snowdon. Thomas Cook went on to organise trips to the 1851 Great Exhibition for 150,000 from the Midlands. Financial health A Labour activist and parent of a patient accused the Prime Minister on a visit

Blast from the past | 6 June 2019

How many people do you think died at Chernobyl? 10,000? 50,000? 300,000? The correct answer, according to the never knowingly understated World Health Organisation — in a thorough report released nearly 20 years after the 1986 explosion — was ‘fewer than 50’. Ah, but what about all the mutant babies who ended up with two heads and webbed feet? What about the inevitable epidemic of cancers? Well, yes, it’s true that 4,000 more cases of thyroid cancer were loosely attributable to Chernobyl, mainly in children and adolescents. But the survival rate was 99 per cent. Because I’ve long been familiar with these facts — mainly as an antidote to all

Trump’s Iran sanctions send a message to Europe: the U.S. is still the boss

On Monday, August 6, the long-arm of the U.S. Treasury Department reached into Europe and violently shook the continent. The first wave of U.S. secondary sanctions on entire sectors of the Iranian economy are now back in force, which means major European conglomerates and large-sized businesses have a potentially existential choice to make. Do we continue to do sign deals in Iran that Washington now explicitly prohibits? Or do we take the path of least resistance by removing our money from the Iranian market and saving ourselves the trouble of billions of dollars of U.S. fines, billions more in asset freezes, and severe damage to the company’s reputation? President Donald


Doubtless Spectator readers based in Caithness will scoff when I say that the old fishing port of Wick (top right corner of the country, close to John O’ Groats) is a bit remote. But for the rest of us, it is. Indeed, its relative isolation is one of the reasons it was chosen to house the archive of the UK nuclear industry, in a brand-new public building called Nucleus. Another is the presence of the Dounreay nuclear plant near Thurso, a big employer in the area, now being slowly dismantled. I went to see Nucleus, relishing the beautiful 110-mile drive up the east coast from Inverness. Nucleus stands in the

Fingers on the nuclear button

In 1983, Soviet spies skulked in our midnight streets to check the lights were out. The Kremlin, convinced the West was planning nuclear war, launched Project RYAN, whereby agents watched for signs of impending attack. One was that lights would burn all night in government buildings, as fiendish mandarins drew up the war plans. It didn’t occur to them that lights might indicate nothing more than cleaners on a late shift. Soviet paranoia was such that they saw menace everywhere, and agents, eager to please Moscow, reinforced this fear. ‘The more alarming the reports, the more the agents were congratulated for their diligence.’ RYAN became self-fulfilling. In an easy, accessible

An accident waiting to happen

In the early days of the atomic age, Soviet students debated whether it was nobler to become a physicist or a poet. Some of them seem to have been genuinely torn, and one of those may well have been Anatolii Diatlov, who was the deputy chief engineer at Chernobyl during the late-night turbine test that led to the 1986 explosion. Such was Diatlov’s reverence for verse that he described the great blasts of steam, hot water and machine oil, along with the violent crackling and popping of the inundated electrical system, as ‘a picture worthy of the pen of the great Dante’. The disaster, as Serhii Plokhy shows in his

Vital signs

Exhibit A. It is 1958 and you are barrelling down a dual carriageway; the 70 mph limit is still eight years away. The road signs are nearly illegible. You miss your turning, over-correct, hit a tree and die. The following year, graphic designer Margaret Calvert is driving her Porsche 356c along the newly built M1. The motorway signs are hers. It is information design of a high order, possibly even life-saving. The clarity and intelligence of Calvert’s British road signs remain unmatched nearly 60 years later. And the font she created became the NHS, and later rail and airport, standard. Exhibit B. The French are worried about nuclear waste. Given

Trump is treating Kim Jong-un like a rival New York real estate developer

When I first heard Donald Trump threaten North Korea with “fire and fury,” I immediately despaired—because I’m sick and tired of hackneyed Game of Thrones references. Amongst American pundits, mentioning the hit show has become a desperate way of showing off one’s knowledge of popular culture. To that end, Steve Bannon isn’t Rasputin or Jean-Paul Marat; he’s Qyburn, of course, and Sean Spicer is Hodor. Now this lazy form of posturing has infiltrated even the highest levels of the United States government. What have we come to? Despite its fantasy undertones, however, Trump’s “fire and fury” remark didn’t originate on HBO; it was improvised by the president during an event addressing the American

Homer Simpson in a chasuble

This is one of the most remarkable, hilarious, jaw-droppingly candid and affecting memoirs I have read for some time — not since, perhaps, Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or Rupert Thomson’s This Party’s Got to Stop. Patricia Lockwood is a poet — dubbed ‘The Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas’ — who, after unexpected and costly medical bills, was forced to move, with her husband, back to her parents’ home. Her mother is more than mildly neurotic, fretting over things like children jumping out of windows in imitation of Superman. Her father is a bad player of the electric guitar, an enthusiast for guns and hunting, a veteran

More gas, less wind

The Global Wind Energy Council recently released its latest report, excitedly boasting that ‘the proliferation of wind energy into the global power market continues at a furious pace, after it was revealed that more than 54 gigawatts of clean renewable wind power was installed across the global market last year’. You may have got the impression from announcements like that, and from the obligatory pictures of wind turbines in any BBC story or airport advert about energy, that wind power is making a big contribution to world energy today. You would be wrong. Its contribution is still, after decades — nay centuries — of development, trivial to the point of

Arms race | 4 May 2017

Like most documentaries, Britain’s Nuclear Bomb: The Inside Story (BBC4, Wednesday) began by boasting about all the exclusives it would be serving up. Unlike most, it was as good as its word. What followed did indeed contain much previously unseen footage and interviews with people — including ‘this country’s bomb-maker in chief’ — who’ve never before spoken about the part they played in Britain becoming a nuclear power. It also did a neat job of fitting the story to our favoured national myth: the one about old-fashioned British pluck and know-how triumphing over both the odds and the shamefully professional ways of other countries. In the 1930s, for example, the