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That was a poorly constructed argument with sleight of hand. You do not focus on the stupidity of burning gas to generate electricity - even your own figures show 26% gas consumption going to power stations but you chose to lump oil into the total to support your argument.

The simple fact is we buy nuclear-generated electricity from France as do Italy and Germany - Greece buys electricity from Bulgarian nuclear facilities.

Even Iran sitting atop gas fields and oil fields wants nuclear energy "for civilian purposes".

Oil can be burned it can also be processed in the petrochemical industry into plastics, carpeting, PET bottles, paints, pharmaceuticals, building materials, paper-processing chemicals, and a whole range of products.

We had coal chemistry and went to oil in the 1960s - we now have a European Union with no indigenous energy sources apart from coal. We have a large neighbour to The East with huge reserves of oil, gas, minerals with a fast-growing population in its Muslim areas and a demographic meltdown in its Russian population....with increasing Chinese penetration of Siberia.

We have China subsidising kerosene as does Indonesia. We have huge demands there for Australian coal, Iranian gas, Chilean copper, Brasilian soya, not to mention INdia's appetite.

The EU wants to control the electricity grid across the EU so power can be wheeled from one Euro-Region to another. Energy policy is not simply a UK matter any longer.

I tire however of this childish idea that hydrocarbons are only to burn - we live in a society which uses chemicals in daily life which require oil feedstock into ethylene crackers and other facilities attached to refineries to make everyday living possible. Batteries are not grown on trees - they are manufactured

Roger Helmer

ONLY 14%???? That's a hell of a lot of oil and gas! And new tecnologies in the pipeline will allow electricity to be used more widely.

With renewables unlikely to offer more than single-figure contributions to energy needs, this article in fact makes the case for the construction of more nuclear capacity, fast!

Peter Franklin

"That was a poorly constructed argument with sleight of hand. You do not focus on the stupidity of burning gas to generate electricity - even your own figures show 26% gas consumption going to power stations but you chose to lump oil into the total to support your argument."

TomTom, not only are you rude, you also accuse me of a 'sleight of hand' when I was completely unfront about the argument I was making, setting it out in figures for everyone to see.

The article is about energy security and oil and gas are the two forms of energy import that present the greatest challenges to our energy security. Given that nuclear is held up by many as the solution (e.g. see Roger Helmer above), I quantified the not very great extent to which it can end our reliance on insecure energy imports.

As for your point about Iran, that raises another sort of energy security issue which is not exactly the strongest argument for the spread of nuclear technology.

Peter Franklin

"ONLY 14%???? That's a hell of a lot of oil and gas!"

Yes, Roger, it is a lot of oil and gas. 86%, however, is even more -- which is the relevant point regarding my argument that nuclear cannot possibly be the main solution to our energy security challenge.


Peter - it's quite easy to see what you are arguing against but not so easy to see what you are arguing for.

We are committed to reducing, not abolishing, our dependency on carbon producing fuels. Our nuclear power stations are reaching the end of their shelf lives. The switch over to electric powered cars is already happening. Demand for electricity-hungry devices is increasing.

In other words a gap is opening up before us. I am not sure that "real thinking" is going to fill it.

Chris C

Very good, Peter.

I've never really understood why the Tory Party - the party of sustainable long-term positions - thought that something as messy as nuclear power was such a great idea.

Similarly, as localism is now in vogue, surely a move towards decentralised power would be a far better solution (as well as being a technical improvement).

p.s. Obviously, it will be a big blow to your credibility that such serious and well-respected commentators as Roger Helmer and 'TomTom' disagree with you.

Henry Mayhew - Ukipper / delusional conservative

Peter - Why don't you say: 'Yes, we need urgently to make the case for more nuclear now, given the proven replacement need and necessary run-up time of ten years, but should also be looking at efficiencies and bio-power'?

I have supported Cam recently, but am shocked by his pandering to the Notting Hill Set on nuclear. This is a major reason for his lack of credibility. Zac seems wilfully oblivious to our need to replace our nuclear power stations.

Neil Reddin

Hmmm. With all the straw men Peter Franklin has used in his article, we could replace a lot of cars with traditional horse-drawn transport.

Nuclear has to be considered as part of an overall energy security strategy and demand for non-fossil fuelled transport and domestic applications is growing. Yet I don't think anyone would seriously suggest that nuclear is some magic wand. Microgeneration, renewables and more general energy efficiency measures will also play their own important roles.

The Huntsman

I cannot speak one way or the other as to the detail here but one might suggest some general principles which all can agree

Our objective, surely, must be to have energy resources over which we, the British people, have ultimate control.

We must never ever allow ourselves to be in a position where another country or entity has ultimate control over our energy supplies, whether it be Russia, France or Liechtenstein. In particular we must never allow the EU to seize control of our energy.

Secondly we must be bending the energies of our scientists towards not just new means of generating energy but making safer or cleaning up existing means of so doing. It cannot be beyond the wit of man to invent new technologies that enable us to generate clean safe electricity. This will mean greatly increased expenditure on research and development but if we end up leading the field then we can, in the long term, achieve a dominance in such technologies by selling them to other nations.

We must try to keep a good mix of energy sources as is feasible and possible so as not to become overly dependent upon one of them.

Fourthly We should always plan for excess capacity, even if this costs money, so that we never find ourselves suddenly experiencing 'brownouts' because we have not planned ahead enough for increased consumption.

Those responsible for energy policy must be made at all times to identify why a particular policy follows a requirement,which should be put in place forthwith, of "British Interests First".

Of course this will cost money, but as the expenditure thereof touches upon vital national security issues, perhaps some unloved recipients of our money, such as Greek Goatherders, Gender Awareness Officers and Labour Quangocrats might usefully be deprived of our largesse to pay for it.

Benet Northcote

Spot on Peter. There seems to be an emotional Conservative commitment to nuclear power rather than a rational one.

Quentin Davies quoted it as one of the reasons he defected to Labour. Surely you don't change political parties on the choice of technology for generating electricity?!

The Government is desperately afraid of an energy crisis - following the days Russia turned off the gas. But as you say, nuclear will do nothing as it only provides 3.6% of our total energy usage. Truth be told, there won't be any new nuclear built by the time the first energy gap appears in 2016/17. Everyone in the energy business is talking about a dash-for-gas. Nuclear is really too little, too late.

The industry has really made a very poor case; all a bit pathetic of them really.

What we need is a heat strategy. That is how we meet our energy security needs. Most people heat their homes using gas!

Adam Buckley

I am slightly confused with some of the more hostile comments to this article. Most of what Peter writes is a factual explanation of how misleading the idea that nuclear could be the solution to our future energy security problems.

One of the problems with putting 'nuclear' and 'energy' in the same sentence is that many people assume that energy and electricity are synonymous, though not, obviously, ConHome readers. Energy is a catchall term covering everything from electricity to petrol in cars and gas used in home cooking. The point Peter clearly makes is that even if we go down the nuclear road, it still will not solve our energy dependency on oil and gas as even France only has 40% of its primary energy supply coming from nuclear power http://ec.europa.eu/energy/energy_policy/doc/factsheets/mix/mix_fr_en.pdf (it also has three times the levels of renewables as the UK).

While nuclear power may be a part of the solution to reduce emissions, if you like that sort of thing, and increase energy security it is plain wrong for it to be presented as ‘the’ answer. At best nuclear is simply one component of an exceptionally complicated set of reforms needed to provide Britain with confidence in its future energy security.

Man in a Shed

The problem is that Labour have left it too late to start building the required Nuclear stations, as usual for reasons of political expediency and personal gain. We need a lot more Nuclear power stations - more on the lines of France, then we could use fossil fuels for the applications they excel at. ( We have over 1000 years of Coal left and can convert it to liquid fuels if the price is right ).

All the posturing and attempts to cuddle as ever confused Lib Dems will lead to the lights going out in 5-10 years time. Just look how popular environmentalists were when that happened in the US recently !

Ted Heath lost power (excuse the pun) because he couldn't keep the lights on - and so will any future Conservative government.

I have no objection to energy efficiency, solar/wind whatever - but we must have a robust and large Nuclear Industry unless we want our country run from Moscow and the Middle East. (The French and Japanese have understood this for some time, the Germans are just starting to back peddle.)

William Norton

Isn't the point about energy security that you should have a balanced portfolio of energy sources without any one source predominating and so creating dependence? Having zero generation from nuclear is about as unstable as having 100%.

Cllr Tony Sharp

I am in favour of a huge expansion of nuclear power capacity. Not only would it take the pressure of oil, coal and gas for providing our electricity needs, but strategically it would place the source of that power firmly in our own hands.

There may be a dash for gas, but that is a typically short-sighted quick fix that will not do anything to enhance our energy security. Although France's nuclear power is reported to service 40% of its primary energy supply, it still seems to have enough to export electricity to Britain when demand is high. Surely we should be providing our own capacity?

Renewables are great as long as you accept they are also unreliable and generally only provide energy about a quarter of the time - and not necessarily when it is needed most. As grid power will be needed to fill the rather large gaps in demand left by reliance on renewables, then does it not make more sense to go nuclear rather than rely on fossil fuels?

As others have said, the need for coal, oil and gas will remain because of their wide range of derivative uses. But by getting much more of our energy from nuclear power, those three commodities will last longer and extend the availability of their derived products.

We should have been increasing nuclear capacity years ago. That we did not is not a good enough argument for not working to increase that capacity today.

Mark Wallace

What a flawed article.

You repeatedly raise arguments about how difficult it would be to wean ourselves off gas and oil whilst providing no alternative. The simple fact is that at the moment we are at the end of two pipelines on which we rely for our light and heat - oil, which runs straight from the Arab world, and gas, which runs straight from Putin. They are far from secure, becoming less secure by the day, and we MUST start to move away from them. Of course infrastructure change will take time and will not be cheap to do, but it is preferable to the alternative of shivering in our dark homes until our Government accedes to the demands of one or both of the two suppliers.

The biggest straw man here is the fudging together of civilian car use under "energy security" in order to make the power generation statistics look small. Energy security is much more about heat and light than it is about being able to drive to the cinema.

If we go nuclear for our electricity, and begin to move away from gas for heating, then we will be making an excellent start. As time progresses, technological development will undoubtedly make progress on better private transport which does not require fossil fuels - huge amounts of headway are being made in this area already by companies well aware that it is both trendy in the short term and will be essential in the medium to long term.

Infrastructure change has been done before: the spread of gas pipes in the 19th century, followed by the construction of the electricity grid. That's what happens when something preferable comes along - you change. A pretty place we'd be if we'd stuck with burning pitch torches lighting the streets because a Franklin ancestor had argued it would be quite a job laying all those pipes and wires for the new-fangled technology.

Finally, I simply don't see the point of this article. We are going to have to stop using fossil fuels, either because we decide to secure ourselves from dependence on dubious regimes or because the stuff runs out. Peter Franklin thinks it might be a bit difficult changing over, but what is the alternative? Pedal-power? Harnessing the hot air from the Lib Dem front bench? Having tried his best to rubbish what is, at least for now, the only game in town - nuclear - he then says "it is here that the real thinking has to start". Thanks for that, Peter - it is more conventional for it to start at the beginning of the article.

Michael McGowan

In response to Benet Northcote, if Quentin Davies cited a Conservative commitment to nuclear energy as a reason for defecting to Labour, then his decision to defect is even more bizarre (or rather opportunistic) than I already thought. Labour know full well that nuclear power is a key (not necessarily the key) ingredient for energy security and will act accordingly.

I am also unclear what your "heat strategy" is. Criticisms are easy. Real world solutions harder.


TomTom, not only are you rude, you also accuse me of a 'sleight of hand' when I was completely unfront about the argument I was making, setting it out in figures for everyone to see.

Get over it. You are making an argument - it is being dissected - it is not about stroking your ego but dealing in facts

The corresponding figure for oil was 89.2 mtoe. Of the gas, 25.4 mtoe was used in power stations to produce electricity; and of the oil, less than 0.3 mtoe. Thus 86% of our oil and gas consumption is for purposes other than producing electricity.

The fact is we should not be using gas to generate electricity at all - Thatcher's hatred of miners caused this waste of heating fuel - and Blair reversed Mandelson's block on gas-fired power stations once Enron had conversed with Blair.

It is Gas that has been criminally wasted in place of coal and base-load generating sets.

Oil has many other purposes than being burned....if we did not have access to French nuclear power or even our own we would be living with the power cut rotas many of us recall from 1972 and 1974


Michael McGowan. Actually, it was the other way round - it was the Conservatives' rejection of nuclear energy that he cited as a reason for defecting.

I still think my main criticism of this article is that it does not propose any solutions to filling the energy gap. It just rejects nuclear as being part of a solution. I don't understand how that gets us anywhere. Furthermore, I would worry about what the real agenda is behind such a position and I think voters would too.

Andrew Lilico

I think I must have missed something, as I don't feel I understand what the author thinks he has argued. Is it, perhaps, that it seems unlikely that in the future all or the vast majority of our energy needs will come from nuclear power? That's perhaps correct, but hardly seems a controversial point of view - was he suggesting that someone believed that all or almost all of our future energy needs would come from nuclear?

Do he think, perhaps, that he has argued that Cameron is right to say that nuclear energy should be only a last resort? But what is the connection between arguing that and the argument that it is unlikely that all or almost all of our future energy needs would come from nuclear? It surely doesn't follow from the fact that we shouldn't expect wholly to rely on nuclear that we should draw the conclusion that nuclear is to be a last resort.

So I'm a bit lost. Perhaps Peter can enlighten us - Peter, what proposition(s) are you trying to argue for here?

Peter Franklin


Ego stroking does not come into it. You made a personal accusation and I defended myself.

As for your point about French electricity imports (most though not all of which is nuclear in origin) UK net importants of electricity in 2005 were 0.7 mtoe -- a rather minor component of the 34.7 mtoe of electricity we consumed.

Mark Wallace:

You completely misrepresent my argument. Far from wanting us to end up in energy poverty that is exactly what I want to avoid. Far from objecting to an major increase in our use of electricity, that is exactly what I believe will have to happen (unless we find a way of burning coal cleanly, or sustainably increasing the production of biofuels).

However a major shift in favour of electricity will require a radical transformation of our transport, heating and electricity distribution systems, none of which will happen on their own. Especially if the politicians believe, as you seem to, that nuclear "is the only game in town." It very clearly isn't the only game in town. Not even on the supply side.


For a start its not possible to propose a complete energy solution in the space of a single article. What I did say is that thinking (which I quaintly regard as a useful preparation for action) has to start with the demand side -- not least in enabling a switch to electricity-based energy services. Note that this would be as much a prequisite for a significant expansion of nuclear power as it would for renewable and microgeneration technologies.


Surely the whole object of this article is to reinstate Cameron's non commital policy on nuclear generation after the FT thought it had found some sort of definite policy statement in the deliberations of the National and International Security Policy Group under Dame Pauline Neville-Jones.
Heaven forbid that the Cameron boat should be rocked by anything concise, thank goodness that it's business as usual and we are back to good old waffle.


We need a significant sized Carbon Tax, (with corresponding decreases in other taxes) to price in the externalities (environmental & Security).

The market will then decide which combination of solutions to use. Any other approach is just State driven and therefore useless.


So a significant sized Carbon Tax isn't state driven then. How will IDS's poor deal with that on their electricity bills.

Benet Northcote

There is a lot of talk in this thread about whether nuclear will meet the energy gap, and about "real world" solutions. Much of the chat is very ill-informed.

A good starting point for anyone wishing to understand Energy Policy is this film on You Tube.


Well worth everyone taking 9 mins to watch and then comment upon.


Thank you for the answer, Peter.

I think I would probably leave the thinking on the demand side to the market rather than trying to manage it in some way. Obviously, incentives to move over to electricity exist such as the congestion charge and there may be a role for others. The incentive to move towards more energy efficient products generally is provided by, well, their efficiency.

Since the supply side is much more regulated, there is a much greater role for government involvement. There appears to be a consensus developing based on the principle that our energy sources should be mixed and we should be moving away from carbon dioxide producing ones. Should we be questioning this consensus?

If not, surely we can draw the conclusion that there is an increased role for nuclear generation. Again, I would probably like to see the market broadly decide how much of a role that would be but I certainly would not be writing it off at this stage. Is that something you would accept or not?

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