Gossage – opinion

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Just a heating engineer...

Steve Whiteley is a lucky man. Or maybe just a canny one. He has just won a cool £1.4m, with just a £2 horse racing accumulator.

 

A heating engineer in Devon by training, he admits to knowing absolutely zilch about the Sport of Kings. He does not begin each morning with a detailed assessment of the runners and riders in Sporting Life. Indeed he denies ever having seen a copy of the horse racing person's Bible. He goes to the races maybe once or twice a year. That is all. Last month he went to Devon and Exeter races at Haldon, outside Exeter. He did have a look at the card for the day. He made two selections for each of the eight races, intending to place £2 to win on each of his choices.

Then, like all good engineers, being a whizz on maths he calculated two times £2 per race was four. Do the same for eight races, and that ends up as an outlay of £32. So instead he plumped for just a single £2 rollover stake, and just one horse in each race. He then watched in disbelief as in turn each of his horses romped home. And his initial £2 stake rolled over, to accumulate some 700,000 times. After the victory of his final winner, a 12-1 outsider that had never won a race before, friend Steve was moved to admit: " I still know nothing about horses. I am just a heating engineer. At least, I was a heating engineer. Up until now." Some guys have all the luck.

 

 

A changed world

When did I really know the nuclear accident at Fukushima had changed the world? When international stars appearing with the world's finest opera company, the Metropolitan of New York, refused to fulfil contractual obligations in Japan.

The exquisite Ukranian soprano Anna Netrebko was due to perform in Nagoya and Tokyo. She is best known in the UK for her stunning performance at the Albert Hall proms - she raised the roof at the last night of the 2007 proms. Known as La Bellisima, she explained her walk out with reference to family members touched by the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl, in her native country . Whilst she herself would have been still a child then, the echoes from Fukushima were simply too much for her.

Conversely the magnificent Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja had no such childhood memories. Malta is one of the majority of EU states which have eschewed any nuclear construction. Calleja, a Verdi and Puccini specialist who has frequently wowed Covent Garden audiences, simply refused to travel to Japan whilst the radiation leaks continued.

Prima donnas throwing wobblies? Perhaps. After all, the shows did go on, albeit with understudies, and with the permanent staff at the Met reminded firmly they had contractual obligations to be there, regardless of any perceived dangers. But in my view, such violent reactions from two of the world's greatest opera stars made it plain. Attitudes to nuclear electricity generation have changed after Fukushima. Not just in Germany, or in Switzerland. But all around the civilised world.

 

Sued with great fanfare

Germany's largest power company, E.On, has announced with great fanfare it will sue the German government for maintaining a nuclear tax on spent fuel rods in place, despite ordering it to close all its nuclear power plants. But will it?

After all, chancellor Angela Merkel is merely doing what the previous Social Democratic government had intended to do. Which is to close all 17 nuclear plants some time between 2020 and 2025.

Of course E.On, and the other three German nuclear generators, would like to sweat their assets for as long as possible. But, in practice, the last of them could never have staggered on much into the 2030s. And certainly all are set to be generating power long after their original official design life, just as is happening with the equivalent aged stations in Britain.

I suspect, in the end, and for all its' bluster, E.On has absolutely no intention of ending up challenging such a popular government decision in the courts. Especially if it continue to link the closure decision to the spent fuel rod tax. When the tax was introduced last year, the four generators quietly acquiesced, knowing they had been onto a good tax-free thing for rather longer than they might have anticipated. Probably a period of discrete silence from E.On might serve everybody's interests well. Including its own.

 

Obscuring the truth

When the troubled Sellafield mixed oxide (Mox) plant was built in the 1990s, at a cost of £1.34 bn, it had to wait several years before it was given an operating licence. The principal justification for awarding that licence in 2001 was the confident belief it would supply hundreds of tonnes of Mox fuel to Japanese reactors. And so make oodles of money for the UK.

In the end, only one Japanese company - Chubu Electric - signed a definite contract. But it operates the Hamoaka plant. And this sits on two major geological faults. In the post-Fukushima antipathy in Japan to any nuclear risks, it is likely to be forced to close. So bang goes the sole source of funds.

It will cost British taxpayers a further £800m to run the Mox plant for the rest of the decade. And then a further £150m to decommission this expensive heap of radioactive metal. Even in nuclear terms, compared with uranium ,Mox fuel is astronomically expensive.

Thank God Sellafield is way up in remote Cumbria. If such a complete white elephant had been built anywhere vaguely near where the TV companies and the chattering classes are based, it would be notorious as one of the worst wastes of public money on record. Geographical obscurity should not obscure the truth.