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Lame duck?

The news last month that the lame-duck outgoing College of 28 European Commissioners had voted (by a majority of one!) to permit the UK government to provide massive subsidies to the French government ­owned Electricité de France to build the nuclear powered Hinckley Point C has caused widespread fury.

Let me list who and why:


1)   All those European Countries that have deliberately eschewed pursuing the entire nuclear dream - several of whom (Austria Germany, Luxembourg) are already considering a legal challenge.
2)   Those who promoted the concept of a European Single Energy market, which outlawed individual governments subsidising technologies that distorted that concept.
3)   Those who thought, when the Coalition Agreement signed in 2010 between the Conservative and Liberal Democrats, said that as an established technology there would be no subsidies for new nuclear, this was an unequivocal commitment.
4)   Those in the renewables industry, who have never been offered subsidies of anything like this size.
5)   The British consumer, who faces paying out twice as much per kilowatt hour for Hinckley  (and any successors) as for current generation facilities.
6)   Those who note that we are already using 10% less electricity per head than in 2000, despite the economy having grown by 18% - and wonder whether all this extra power generation is really needed
7)   Those who realise that a project once estimated at just £5bn is now being costed at £24bn ­ and is still a decade away from production

I have never previously been minded to cite Greenpeace as any sort of oracle. But when Andrea Carta, its legal advisor, concludes “there is no legal or moral justification for turning taxes into profits for a power company, whose only legacy will be a pile of radioactive waste”, I cannot help but agree.  If it proceeds, Hinckley Point is the heist of the century.


Revolutionary

My heart was gladdened when I heard that the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics had been awarded to those who had invented a new kind of light-emitting diode. Or as we call it, blue LED. There is no question that this new technology is revolutionizing an industry, that is only just turning away from mass-marketing that 1890s technology, the incandescent light-bulb.

The Nobel Prize committee said that the lamps hold “great promise” for over 1.5bn people across the world that live without access to grid electricity, as their low power requirements mean they can be plugged into cheap solar panels.  “Incandescent light-bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps.”

Three Japanese physicists have won this most prestigious of scientific awards, plus a handy £750,000 to share between them. Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura have all travelled to Stockholm to receive the plaudits. But in the background paper issued as part of the official citation, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences made a rather important reference to some work undertaken over fifty years ago, at the University of Illinois.

It acknowledges it was in America, back in 1962, when a 33 year old researcher called Nicholas Holonyak, working on a General Electric-funded contract , invented the first visible spectrum, the red LED. Now an emeritus professor, Holonyak has never personally received any formal recognition for his discovery from the Nobel committees. What was his reaction to being passed over in favour of those who at most could be described as having built upon his discovery? It was wonderfully pithy. “The LED as you know it today comes from us. Hell, I am an old guy now. But I find this one completely insulting.”


A tireless quest

As part of my tireless quest for items to interest my thousands of devoted readers, I volunteered to attend the final Conservative annual conference before next May¹s General Election. It was held in England¹s Second City, Birmingham. A city renowned for its outward-looking, export-oriented companies. And which has the distinction right now of returning the grand total of zero Conservative MPs to Westminster.

Sitting in on one of the many fringe meetings in Birmingham, I began to understand why that might be. I was listening to the former Conservative Cabinet member, John Redwood. He was speaking in the wake of the close-run Scottish independence referendum, where many pundits believe it was the last minute intervention of a whole series of CEOs that swung that vote ,  by pointing out the potential consequences for their employees of a majority changing the status quo.

As a staunch Unionist, Redwood could but applaud. But then he issued a bloodcurdling warning to any Captains of Industry who might seek to intervene in the possible 2017 referendum about staying in the European Union. He said unequivocally that these industrialists should not “meddle in politics”, but “keep out” of the debate ­ or else. “We will make life very difficult for them” by “making sure” that customers, employees and shareholders destabilize governance. Any boss persisting in these “foolish” ideas, he advised, should be fired.

As over 90% of Confederation of British Industry-affiliated companies have made clear already that they are entirely opposed to leaving the European Union, Redwood is obviously seeking a policy of Omerta from all these job creators.

That said, if the ‘we’ on behalf of whom he is making these Putin-like threats can be considered to be drawn from many of his fellow Conservative MPs, it can be little wonder that so many companies are filled with foreboding at the prospect of an In/Out EU vote.