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How many more winters of energy discontent?

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Miners strikeEd Miliband made a headline grabbing speech this week – the bit that grabbed my attention, and that of much of the media, was the promise to freeze energy prices for 20 months and ‘reset the energy market’.

It’s hard to argue with the premise that there’s something wrong with the energy market – the mostly foreign owned privatised Oligopoly that has a 97% market share and perhaps an inversely proportional share of public trust.

I believe that there’s a fundamental mismatch between the needs of society and those of private companies. A clash between the need to re-invest and the need to pay dividends. I think privatisation is therefore at the root of the problem. It worked well enough while the new private energy companies could operate (quite profitably) the assets built by public money, but stumbles when those assets need renewal.

In energy (not uniquely) we need to take a long-term view; 20 to 30 even 50 years out. Private businesses, even public private businesses (PLCs) just aren’t geared for that kind of commitment.

Would we have the National energy grid that we have now, or the core generation fleet, if it were left to private enterprise to build it? I think we definitely would not.

It is the same for other sectors, which deliver fundamental needs and need to do so on a universal basis – it requires a long term view and a degree of altruism simply absent from (most) private business, but especially the large ones.

In the energy sector we have another problem – the one of foreign ownership. While it might sound good in principle, free market/globalisation principle, to open up British Businesses to foreign ownership – in practice it has real drawbacks, especially when it’s businesses engaged in providing such fundamental needs as energy.

Two thirds of our Big Six energy suppliers are foreign owned. Their investment priorities are set from elsewhere – they cannot be Britain centric. Their parent companies will direct their capital to the markets with the best rates of return – for that read highest retail prices.

It’s worse still with the other part of the energy industry that goes largely unseen – those companies that operate the wires – the grid. These are some 85% foreign owned and they are making typically 30% profit margins for running the wires that were built with public money. And that profit, that margin from our energy bills flows out of Britain – instead of into new energy infrastructure. It’s an issue we highlighted in this post.

My view is that Ed should consider the nuclear option – no not that one – the Renationalisation one.

That’s a big ask – but a nationalised industry would be best placed to make the long term investment we need, could borrow at super low rates available to the government and would be able to control prices far more directly itself.

There is an alternative and it looks like the one under consideration – actual proper regulation of the Energy industry – something that’s been absent since privatisation in my opinion.

After all, we energy suppliers are licenced to be so by the government – the government does get to set the rules.

Those rules should make investment in new infrastructure a licence condition, and they should tightly regulate profit margins – and thereby prices. It’s something that appears to work in the water sector – another privatised industry, but this time an actual monopoly.

What we need is to harness the energy bills of Britain, and use them to build the energy infrastructure that we need, and the next generations will need. Something a government is uniquely placed to make happen.

The model that Ecotricity pursues we call ‘bills into mills’ – it sees us spend about ten times more per customer, each year (on average for the last nine years) building new sources of green energy – than any of the Big Six.

If this were done on a National scale we Britons could raise the investment needed from our own energy bills, and by building our own sources of renewable energy, detach ourselves from the inexorable rise in costs of fossil fuels. Proper regulation could achieve this.

We currently have a system that harnesses the energy bills of Britain, largely for the benefit of overseas organisations, who will invest in what Britain needs, to an extent, but for a ‘return’ – and only if the government does not upset them – as Ed Miliband has this week. Witness the threats of blackouts and an end to investment that swiftly followed his speech. Ironically it’s like a threat to go on strike by the energy companies – quite a turnaround from the 70’s.

I think he’s right to take this sector on, but I’d urge a root and branch approach – even nationalisation. And it will no doubt be a battle.

On energy prices though we need to be honest with ourselves, fossil fuels will only become more expensive over time and while we rely on them our energy bills will only go up – Big Six or not. The only real way to lower our energy bills is to become energy independent – to make our own energy from Britain’s abundant renewable sources.

Cheers.

EDIT: There have since been a number of articles published by others with a similar theme:

Owen Jones in the Independent “Rising energy costs: the bullies at the Big Six must be stood up to”

John Harris in the Guardian “Hinkley Point nuclear power station: a new type of nationalisation”

Kevin McCullough in the Times (paywalled) “Nationalise energy assets owned by foreigners”

30 responses to “How many more winters of energy discontent?”

    • Paul

      The comment on the grid itself has a reasonable point.

      The rest of the piece, being little more than an apology piece for the tired, failed, elitist approach of nationalisation is disappointing, especially coming from somebody operating a business which shows what can be achieved when people aren’t denied freedom of choice. Talk about biting the hand that feeds.

        • Dale Vince

          Hi Paul, I think you may have misunderstood my central point.

          That the privatisation of energy companies is at the root of today’s dysfunctional energy market – a market out of touch (and out of trust) with it’s customers.

          The Big 6 have priorities that fundamentally conflict with the needs of our country – such as dividends to shareholders and the need to deliver for a foreign based owner (in the majority of cases).

          Not all price rise issues lay at the feet of the Big 6, but they undoubtedly make large profits and play ‘transfer price’ games.

          The inexorable rise in the cost of fossil fuels needs acknowledging as a factor now and going fwds – one beyond anyone’s control.

          And the solution I’m really suggesting is better regulation to harness Britain’s energy bills to invest in the infrastructure that we need – the green power projects that can actually do something about rising prices.

          Nationalisation is one way to achieve this – unlikely to happen. Real regulation is another.

          I’m biting no hand that feeds – I’m suggesting (in renationalisation) a solution that would bring the end of ecotricity as we know it – because that would be better for our country then the situation we have now.

          I hope this may help.

          Cheers.

            • Paul L

              “Hi Paul, I think you may have misunderstood my central point.”

              I understood your point, I just disagree with it. It is ironic that in the title you reference “winter of discontent,” a phrase associated in this context with state ownership and power cuts!

              “That the privatisation of energy companies is at the root of today’s dysfunctional energy market – a market out of touch (and out of trust) with it’s customers.”

              Is that really the case though? We can take it as given that a great many customers are never going to be truly happy unless electricity is free. We can also take it as given that energy companies will never be popular because prices have risen, because of factors outside their control, which they will take the blame for.

              Put that to one side and what evidence do we have that they are out of touch? Certainly they are with somebody like me, who uses Ecotricity, but those who don’t seem to be indicating otherwise.

              “And the solution I’m really suggesting is better regulation to harness Britain’s energy bills to invest in the infrastructure that we need – the green power projects that can actually do something about rising prices. Nationalisation is one way to achieve this – unlikely to happen.”

              Thankfully, it is unlikely to happen, because it isn’t a realistic way to achieve what you suggest.

              You appear to be making a common assumption that, in the event of nationalisation, it will be people who share your views who will be making the decisions, but the available evidence is, that wouldn’t be the case. Look at Ed Milliband’s response; he is playing to the price-chasing customers of the big six. He’s trying to gain popularity by promising cheaper electricty and greater ease of consumption. In the current environment, Ecotricity customers can make a difference by taking their custom to somebody who thinks differently and does things differently. With nationalised electricity, that wouldn’t be an option.

              My fundamental disagreement with you is on this point. You appear to be ascribing behaviours and abilities to the state which aren’t supported by experience.

              “In energy (not uniquely) we need to take a long-term view; 20 to 30 even 50 years out. Private businesses, even public private businesses (PLCs) just aren’t geared for that kind of commitment.”

              Ecotricity is surely a clear contradiction of that theory. On the other hand, if you want a long-term view, a government is one of the worst places to look; they are inherently short-termist in their outlook, focused, as politicians will naturally be, on the next election.

              “It is the same for other sectors, which deliver fundamental needs and need to do so on a universal basis – it requires a long term view and a degree of altruism simply absent from (most) private business, but especially the large ones.”

              Food is a clear counter-argument to that.

                • Dale Vince

                  Hi Paul the irony of the title is not lost on me – it was intentional.

                  We’ve gone from threats of blackouts due to miners strikes (with a centrally controlled energy industry) to threats of blackouts from the bosses of the privatised energy companies.

                  And you talk about biting the hand that feeds….:)

                  I still think you miss my point.

                  And your own first comments illustrate this; My post is not an apology for anything , let alone nationalisation. And how can you describe a system (whether nationalised or simply centrally built and operated) as ‘elitist’ let alone ‘failed’.

                  By definition nationally owned undertaking operate for the benefit of all people in a country rather than just those that are shareholders in a privatised version – the elitism, if it exists is surely on the other side.

                  And have nationally operated endeavours really failed – Is the NHS a failure, was the CEGB before privatisation? (are prices lower now, do we have more stability and more accountability or less)..?

                  The main point I’m trying to make in my post is that the energy market is not fit for purpose, it’s privatisation that has caused this – and some kind of national approach to energy is required – whether that be ‘re nationalisation’ (unlikely), or real regulation – which would enable the harnessing of our energy bills to deliver the energy system we need (and that is another way to achieve the aim).

                  Our current system sees our energy bills harnessed for the benefit of shareholders in the Big Six, four of whom are foreign owned. We are about as far away from where we need to be as you (or I at least) could imagine.

                  Cheers.

                    • Paul

                      “And how can you describe a system (whether nationalised or simply centrally built and operated) as ‘elitist’ let alone ‘failed’.”

                      Because the decisions are made centrally, by an elite.

                      “By definition nationally owned undertaking operate for the benefit of all people in a country…”

                      That certainly isn’t part of the definition. If anybody, they operate for the benefit of the politicians which control them. In theory, their interests could be aligned with all of the people in a country, but I’ve yet to see that be the case in practice.

                      “…rather than just those that are shareholders in a privatised version – the elitism, if it exists is surely on the other side.”

                      Not at all. You, as the owner of an energy company, may consider yourself to be part of the elite and that may well be true, but the system itself is not elitist, because I, as an ordinary person, can take my business away from you, any time I choose. The real power is with me, as an ordinary person, not with you as part of the elite.

                      “are prices lower now…”

                      No, but the key factors are nothing to do with privatisation. Inflation is the major factor. The increasing cost of fuel due to reduced availability and increased demand also has a significant impact. We also have the regulatory impacts; we have various taxes and obligations designed to reduce consumption and change the nature of the supply; these push prices up, on the basis that such an approach will benefit the general populace.

                      “…do we have more stability…”

                      Yes. We don’t have blackouts to the same extent, for example. It seems self-evident to me that we have more stability; the principles, objectives and approach of, for example, Ecotricity, will inherently be more stable than a government which will potentially have a complete change of direction every five years.

                      “…and more accountability or less”

                      Much more, because, as addressed above, I can take my custom elsewhere.

    • Geoff Dann

      To Paul:

      Read it an weep, and stop moaning. It is YOUR attitude to this which is tired and failed. You are defending a failed ideology. Think about who has written this article and why on Earth somebody in his position would write such a thing unless he felt there was no alternative. Your “freedom” will achieve nothing but a catastrophe for the whole of society. What really motivates people like you is not “freedom”, but personal GREED.

        • Paul

          Geoff, if I was only motivated by greed, then I wouldn’t be an Ecotricity customer. I would have gone and sourced a cheaper deal elsewhere.

    • Joe V

      Also to Paul:

      Maybe your memory is shorter than mine, but the ‘tired, failed,elitist?? nationalised industry built our grid and was working fine until Thatcher saw the opportunity to increase her own share portfolio.

        • Paul

          Joe, in my comment, I acknowledged that there was a reasonable point around the grid itself, yet your comment refered only to the grid. As such it is not a meaningful response.

            • Joe V

              You didn’t read far enough; I said the CEGB was working fine until Thatcher destroyed it, hence “failed” is wrong. Every industry needs constant upgrading so I can grant you “tired” due to government under-investment. But “elitist” is just plain weird for a nationalised industry which had introduced Economy 7 and was supplying the whole of the country. Before you mention meaningful again you should read your own comment before posting.

    • Paul

      Nationalised industries are invariably elitist. With the current system, if I like the way Ecotricity operates, as an ordinary person, I am empowered to use their services. With nationalisation, that choice is taken and centralised with an elite, which makes all the decisions.

        • Obi #OLSX Stream (@Obi_Live)

          Elitist to you is running the utilities via the government, theoretically voted in by the people of this country?

          So how do you describe the utilities run for the benefit of shareholders? A small number of people who do not include most of the people in this country?

            • Paul

              That would also be elitist, if we were not given a choice to take our business elsewhere. Thankfully, we can.

    • Joe V

      Wow, real management-speak, “empowered”?? I just simply requested them to supply me and they agreed. You really need to look up elitist in the dictionary, I’m sure you mean something else. Otherwise it’s just bonkers.

        • Paul

          Just because you don’t like something being correctly described as elitist doesn’t mean you get to change the meaning of the word.

            • Joe V

              Lexical semantics – this is fun. Just because someone doesn’t agree with your warped opinion, and it is only your opinion with no fact or substance.

              And as the troll you are, you’ll keep coming back, and back, and back….

                • mary omnes

                  On the point of lexical semantics I think in Dale’s article he’s incorrect to use the word altruism in relation to private companies, or indeed with relation to anything. I agree with him that the private companies would be too greedy to reinvest their profits in upgrading the grid, but I don’t think it’s lack of altruism.

                  For my son’s A level philosophy course he had to write an essay entitled ‘There is no such thing as altruism. Discuss’ It was an interesting essay and he convinced me that there really is no such thing as altruism, because the person carrying out the perceived altruistic act always benefits somehow, even if it’s subliminal by just feeling better about themselves or appeasing their moral conscience.

                  I tend never to use the word any more, which is hard, because until my son’s essay I had always considered myself an altruistic person!

    • Kate Jones

      After hearing the very predictable responses from the ‘Big Six’ to Miliband’s very moderate price-freeze and regulation plan, I was curious as to what the response would be from Dale Vince and Ecotricity, the company I buy my electricity from. Dale is an entrepreneur, after all, albeit one with impeccably ‘green’ credentials. I was delighted, surprised even, to read his latest Zero Carbonista blog, calling for renationalisation of the energy industry, and firmly placing the blame for today’s energy chaos and lack of green investment, on privatisation.
      Back in the post-war years, when a reforming Labour Government nationalised the electricity and gas industries, they took into public ownership dozens, hundreds even, of companies, large and small, in order to centralise, develop and plan the industry to meet the needs of modern Britain, and power our homes, services and industries.
      Today, the challenge is to deliver a climate-friendly and environment-friendly power industry, and only a renationalised and planned one can do that, in my opinion. I’m really glad that Dale agrees!

        • Dale Vince

          Hi Kate, thank you for this, that’s spot on.

          And a great (and very useful) historical perspective to add to the debate.

          Cheers.

    • Chris

      I agree Dale. It’s good to see that your integrity is clearly intact. It’s a unique quality in a business owner and the world would be a much better place if more were like you. However the overall trend is accelerating in the exact opposite direction. Ask any doctor and they will tell you how companies like Care UK, Virgin Care, Serco and Circle are currently playing a role in the fragmentation and back door privatisation of our NHS. Then there’s the sell off of Royal Mail. These are public institutions that not even Thatcher would dare touch. Maybe this is overly cynical.. but I think it’s driven by the people and what they’re reading. There’s a pattern in papers like the Mail, the Express and the Sun of extremely miserly headlines. If all people read is stories which centre on ‘Hands off our taxes’ ..’Get off my land’ …or ‘GPs, Teachers and the BBC are all evil!’

      One of my best friends is a GP and he says he regularly gets abused by patients, often within days of negative headlines in the Mail. He’s usually accused of being over paid and uncaring. He now lies about what he does when meeting strangers. With this little support for public institutions or the taxes which supply them, it’s hard to see how any government would propose, carry out and maintain nationalisation of the energy grid. I can’t see it being an overly profitable venture, but I don’t suppose you fancy starting a newspaper next?! !

        • Dale Vince

          Hi Chris, I think you’re right about the press, it has a huge influence on people’s opinions, and their outlook.

          Witness the fairly recent campaign by what you might call the right wing press, to discredit the science of Climate Change – I saw the results of a study last week that showed that the number of people who now doubted Climate Change was real, had quadrupled in the last few years.

          From about 4% to nearly 16%. That’s undoubtedly due to all the climate change denying stories and editorials we’ve been seeing lately – and it’s a dangerous and reckless game being played.

          And to use a term Paul uses above – this is a game being played by an elite, those that own newspapers – or in one case own several newspapers.

          Cheers.

    • mary omnes

      Yes I too agree that renationalisation of the energy companies and other public organisations such as the railway, and now the post office would be in the best interest of the vast majority of people, but I think the chances of the fat cats ever agreeing for it to happen is as likely as England winning the next world cup!

      And if Ed Milliband tries to take on the fat cats he’ll be immediately labelled a communist by the right wing press.

      It all looks a bit bleak. Thank God we had a fine summer!

      Best Wishes,

      Mary

    • nick

      A quick look at the UK energy watch site over the last few days shows just how much effect the massive subsidy of UK consumers’ hard earned money into wind power has had. As of now (13:28 BST) wind was producing just over 3,000MW out of total requirement for 31,000MW of electricity. That’s just 10% and it comes from an installed capacity of around 11,000MW – approximately 5,000 turbines. Based on a 30% capacity factor to replace the 25,000MW currently generated by coal, gas and nuclear would need to install turbines of roughly 80,000MW capacity – that’s around 40,000 more. Of course, we would still need to keep the majority of existing coal, gas and nuclear capacity (at vast expense in standby mode) ready to generate at a couple of seconds notice to cope with those inconvenient days when the wind isn’t blowing or blowing too hard.

      Aside from the difficulties of finding enough space in the UK to put 40,000 more subsidised turbines (there is only 94,000 sq miles in the UK) and the difficulties of getting consumers to continue to pay 2-3 times the actual price of power in order to fund those subsidies, turbines in that number would require a significant number of the population to suffer the environmental impacts of visual pollution and the ill-health caused by low frequency noise. The current NIMBY attitude of most people ie the turbine isn’t in my back yard so go ahead and build it, might change to the more traditional definition of NIMBY when they have to suffer the ill-effects themselves.

      As the world continues to stubbornly not warm up as predicted by the climate change lobby, there is an opportunity to invest; not in shockingly unpredictable wind but in those low or zero carbon forms of energy production that we can rely on – tide/wave, solar, hydro and of course nuclear. The thorium reactor offers real hope of a safe and reliable source of zero carbon energy that does not produce material that could be used to make nuclear weapons while successful commercial fusion reactors would solve the world’s electricity production problems. But these are not here now, and the only technology we have to keep our economy working for the next 20-30 years is coal, oil, gas and fission.

      Whilst (unsubsidised) wind should probably have a place in the mix, we need to invest in reliable forms of electricity production now in order to prevent our slow slide into a subsistence economy rather than following the daft idea of building a subsidised turbine in every 2 square miles of the entire UK.

        • Paul

          Wind does have reliability issues, but I don’t think it needs to be quite as fatal a problem as you imply.

          The key would probably be building the means of storing energy in times of excess production in order to have it available in times of excess demand.

          Pumped-storage hydroelectricity is a tried and tested method at large scale. Battery and air compression have also been shown to work. Also, the use of excess energy to create hydrogen, which is then used to power generators in time of excess demand, is something which I believe is currently being trialled.

        • Dale Vince

          Hi Nick,

          What you call massive subsidies for wind power are not so big really are they – For onshore wind it’s just over a fiver per household per year. The cost probably doubles with offshore wind thrown in, and I think the cost of supporting all forms of renewables currently sits at about £15 per household per year. Is that really massive?

          In your example here, that £15 gave us 10% of the energy we required. I’d say that’s pretty impressive and real value for money.

          The idea of needing most of the current conventional capacity as back up on two seconds notice is also an exaggeration. Renewables are intermittent but not to anything like that degree.

          And then you get to Climate Change – not happening you say – do you read the news, did you not see the latest IPCC report came out last week – it puts this issue beyond reasonable doubt.

          You refer to wind as shockingly unpredictable – is that what you think of the weather, because that’s all we really have to forecast. As an energy company with about 40% of it’s mix from onshore wind, I can tell you that predicating it is nowhere near as hard as you are suggesting.

          You say we should use sources of energy we can rely on, and then you list Tidal/Wave, Solar and Hydro – do you realise that Wave, Solar and Hydro are also driven by the weather? The same weather that makes wind ‘shockingly unpredictable’.

          And then there’s nuclear – where to start.

          It’s reliable? ask the Japanese.

          You think subsidies for wind are high – wait till you see the bill for nuclear, probably three to four times as much per unit generated.

          And as for the new technologies, long time coming. The first generation of nuclear power plants were supposed to make energy too cheap to meter – post privatisation the industry nearly went bust because it could not live in the market – just covering it’s running costs. It really is very big hope that any form of nuclear energy will save us.

          And finally – your calculations for one windmill needed every two square miles seem to overlook offshore wind (40,000 mills needed you say and 94,000 square miles to do it in) – another gaping hole in your arguments.

          And not to overlook of course this ‘calculation’ also supposes that wind would supply 100% of our energy mix – a rather extreme scenario, and one not even you suggest in you earlier text.

          Not a lot of balance or accuracy in this Nick.

          Cheers.

            • Manuel L.

              >And then there’s nuclear – where to start.
              >It’s reliable? ask the Japanese.

              Well, it *is*. Over 20,000 people died in the earthquake/tsunami disaster two years ago, that much is true. But not a single one of those deaths was caused by radiation. Even the radiation found in the soil and seawater afterwards caused mainly a media frenzy and some economic damages thanks to panicked newspaper readers.
              (And then there’s the fact that the media in Western Europe and the US were reporting almost exclusively about the “nuclear disaster”, where the Japanese media were more concerned with the rebuilding efforts in the destroyed cities, and getting people back into their homes which, where still standing, had been evacuated needlessly in a lot of cases.)
              Nuclear energy is the safest energy source in terms of deaths caused per kilowatt hour of generated electricity (coal is the worst, by the way – source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=4zJn4gxCx3c&t=590 )

                • Joe V

                  “Not a single one of those deaths…..” What mendacious rubbish. At least have the backbone to admit that people will be dying of the effects of radiation for years to come.

                  A screening program found that more than a third (36%) of children in Fukushima Prefecture have abnormal growths in their thyroid glands. As of August 2013, there have been more than 40 children newly diagnosed with thyroid cancer and other cancers in Fukushima prefecture as a whole. Data from the Chernobyl accident showed that there was a steady then sharp increase in thyroid cancer rates following the disaster in 1986. Whether this data can be directly compared to the Fukushima nuclear disaster is still yet to be determined.

                  Some American scientists attribute up to 14,000 infant deaths to the radiation that spread from Fukushima. As everybody knows, it is unborn foeti that are most at risk.

                  What I hate most about the entire nuclear industry is the refusal to admit the truth; the endless lies and disinformation. If they could be truthful one could almost forgive them for wanting to invest in an outdated, dangerous and massive security risk.

                  As for getting some Japanese people back in their homes, you can forget that for several hundred years around the nuclear plant, which is estimated will take up to 40 years to decommission. What a criminal waste of money.

                    • Manuel L.

                      Please cite your sources: evidently we eithe one or both of us (I suspect the latter) were misinformed by two sets of very well funded and experienced diametrically-opposed propaganda/disinformation machines working at full blast. I’ll take your claims as valid for the purposes of this reply, since they do seem conceivable.

                      40 children diagnosed with cancer and over a third suffering from abnormal growths is indeed a sad statistic, (I know from personal experience that thyroid problems are no laughing matter) but all of these children are still alive, aren’t they? So my claim that not a single death in and around Fukushima has been caused by radiation remains valid. Hardly a consolation for the cancer patients, I’ll be the first to admit that – but still true.

                      The statistics on infant deaths sounds very interesting if terrifying. I’d love to read that paper, especially what area around Fukushima had that large a number of infants that could possibly have received large enough doses of radiation. (It certainly was not reported in the Japanese press: make of that what you will.) Could you name these “some American scientists” so I can have a stab at contacting them for a copy? Also, while it is true that ionising radiation can and does trigger spontaneous abortion in pregnant women, why are you conflating unborn foeti with infants?

                      I agree with you on the issue of endless lies and disinformation spread by the nuclear industry; it’s a sad consequence of the purely profit-oriented corporations involved hiring experienced psychologists for their advertising departments. Maybe nationalized energy providers could do a marginally better job; I honestly don’t know. You do have to realize, however, that many if not most of the environmentalists clamoring for shutdown of every reactor ever built are guilty of the exact same thing.

                      The YouTube link in my comment above (a TEDx talk by South African columnist Ivo Vegter, whose book on the issue will soon be sitting in my mailbox thanks to online bookshops) illustrates nicely how blatant emotional manipulation and distorted/made-up claims about environmental issues by environmentalists are actively damaging the environment. Prime example: Angela Merkel ordered all German nuclear power to be shut down by 2020. How did she make up for the expected energy shortfall? By going back to bloody *coal* power, the single most hazardous and polluting method of energy generation currently available. As a result, my native Germany’s CO2 footprint went through the roof; rest assured I never voted for her party and never will.

                      Another thing you seem to not quite realize is that the scale of the disaster in Fukushima is not comparable to Chernobyl, where we can indeed forget about moving any remaining survivors back into their homes in the lifetime of our genewration’s grandchildren. The problem in Fukushima appears far less an issue of radioactive contamination than one of plain old earthquake/flood damage. I intendto visit the region myself when I’ve saved up for my next Japan trip. If you’re interested in what I see there you could drop me a line on my gmail account (the part before the @ sign is “bugarup”; hopefully spambots trawling the Internet won’t pick up on email addresses stated in this way)

                      If you only read one paragraph of my reply, please let it be this last one: the truth is not so easily clearcut as the environmentalist message that nuclear power is pure evil and must never be used. Hundreds of nuclear power plants around the world have been operating cleanly, safely and reliably for decades without ever irradiating a single human being; do you seriously believe that every single one of them is a ticking timebomb just waiting for a chance to cause death, illness and suffering on an inconceivable scale? (On the other hand, coal plants harm humanity merely by operating normally: even just mining coal causes hundreds of deaths every year, to say nothing of the respiratory diseases caused by even the best-filtered smokestack near a major population centre, and the effect on the planet’s climate.)

                        • Joe V

                          Very interesting comments. My initial sources:

                          “Disturbing thyroid cancer rise in Fukushima minors”. RT. 21 August 2013. http://rt.com/news/fukushima-children-thyroid-cancer-783/
                          “Radioactivity and thyroid cancer* Christopher Reiners Clinic and Polyclinic of Nuclear Medicine University of Würzburg. Thyroid cancer Incidence in children and adolescents from Belarus after the Chernobyl accident.”.

                          Estimated infant deaths:

                          http://www.radiation.org/press/pressrelease111219FukushimaReactorFallout.html

                          Scale of nuclear disaster: Both Chernobyl and Fukushima have been assessed as 7 while Long Island is 5. Therefore they are directly comparable.

                          I agree with you regarding Merkel’s ‘Energiewende’. Instead of concentrating on steady replacement she responded with a knee-jerk reaction. There are fleets of offshore wind turbines that remain unconnected to the grid, but powered by diesel to prevent them rusting. How ridiculous.

                          If nuclear power is so benign, then why are the US and Israel so panic stricken about Iran producing electricity this way? Of course, the by product is a weapon only the insane would use.

                          I could bore you for hours on this subject but will leave it there and contact you by email. Regards.