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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Black holes and other earthly phenomenon

I am rushing off to Hereford to look at how they deliver health and social care so just time for a quick post, inevitably finishing with a weak joke.

Yesterday's Guardian put its finger on the problem facing the nuclear industry with a report highlighting the real cost of nuclear power.

They report on the claim by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Huhne that Britain is facing a £4bn black hole in unavoidable nuclear decommissioning and waste costs:

The revelation places an unexpected burden on his department's £3bn annual budget ahead of difficult spending negotiations this summer. "As you can imagine, this is a fairly existential problem. The costs are such that my department is not so much the department of energy and climate change, as the department of nuclear legacy and bits of other things," Huhne told the Guardian.

The additional costs derive from slowly rising expenditure on nuclear decommissioning, and falling income due to the closure of ageing power plants, Huhne said.

Huhne disclosed that in current financial year the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's budget is expected to be in balance.From 2011-12, the deficit suddenly rises to £850m, in 2012-13 the gap increases further to £950m and then to £1.1bn in the two subsequent years.

The black hole is equivalent to wiping out one-sixth of the overall cuts in public spending identified by the Treasury with such fanfare last week.

But Huhne insisted: "I do not think it is possible for anyone responsibly to stand aside and say we are not going to deal with it. We just have to, but what we are effectively paying for here is decades of cheap nuclear electricity for which we have suddenly got a massive postdated bill."

The big question of course is who should pick up that bill and, as Chris Huhne says, avoiding future developments that will lead to more public subsidy in terms of the decommissioning costs. In other words if these power stations are to be built and operated by private companies then they should pay for the whole shebang, including the clean-up afterwards.

In the meantime one is left wondering whether it is entirely safe to marry up black holes, financial or otherwise with nuclear power stations. That is just a big bang waiting to happen. Did Chris Huhne check with those nice people at Cern before he spoke out?
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