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Mini Nukes Can Fix Britain’s Energy Woes

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Mini nukes can fix Britain’s energy woes

Britain’s energy crunch has a clear and immediate cause – namely, a sudden surge in international gas prices. But the underlying problems exposed by what is now a serious crisis-in-the-making have been building up for years.

The UK’s combined choices, over decades in fact, regarding energy market design, price controls, gas-led power generation and the push for renewables have this week been shown to be sorely lacking.

Successive governments have sought reliable and affordable domestic and commercial energy supplies, while wanting to lower emissions. The tension between those objectives has now been laid bare by spiralling gas prices.

The price of wholesale gas over recent years has averaged around 50p per therm. Yet since early 2021, soaring post-lockdown demand and sluggish supplies have seen prices skyrocket over 400pc. But so far, at least, price caps have, for the most part, kept customers’ utility bill increases in check.

The mismatch between soaring costs and flat revenues means numerous energy companies are now folding – particularly those who bet the wrong way, not using forward markets to hedge against dearer gas. Until recently, there were around 50 UK retail energy suppliers. By the end of this crisis, there could be as few as 10.

Several times last week, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng insisted the Britain won’t, as the nights draw in and temperatures drops, face 1970s style power cuts. There is “absolutely no question of the lights going out,” he said. A former Energy Minister, Kwarteng has a good knowledge of the industry and the UK’s broader energy complex. But one hopes – and not only for his sake – these words don’t come back to bite.

While the UK still relies on gas for around 40pc of our electricity generation, we have scant gas storage capacity. Since the closure of the Rough facility off the Yorkshire coast in 2017, we’ve operated a “just in time” approach to gas procurement – effectively relying on Germany, the Netherlands and other nations for our storage needs.

Around half our gas supply is domestically produced, with another fifth pumped via the Langeled pipeline from Norway – seen as an ultra-reliable source. But if a harsh winter and supply crunch causes blackouts and stoppages in mainland Europe, Britain’s reliance on cross-channel interconnectors will become all too apparent.

Certain geopolitical pressure should be considered on top of that. Around two-fifths of Western Europe’s gas comes from Russia – at a time when Moscow wants European Union approval for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline bringing Russian gas to the EU via the Baltic Sea rather than Ukraine. And it’s less than a year since President Emmanuel Macron threatened Britain with an energy embargo if he didn’t get his way over some aspect of new UK-EU fishing arrangements.

With the European mainland itself seriously vulnerable to gas-market disruption, UK gas storage capacity is vital. Yet we now have less than 10 terawatt hours of stored reserves, compared to 75 in the Netherlands, 113 in France, 148 in Germany and 166 in Italy.

Renewables account for around 20-25pc of UK electricity production – but are intermittent, subject to weather vagaries. Given all that, despite Kwarteng’s assurances, we can’t be sure outages will be entirely avoided.

What’s clear is that some combination of a higher retail price cap – more expensive bills for households – and/or government bailouts of energy firms is now in the offing. This energy crunch is also most definitely refocusing attention on atomic energy – not as a source of immediate relief, but as part of a solution to achieving broader energy security.

The UK has around 10 operational nuclear power stations, generating almost a fifth of our electricity. Most of them are run by EDF, majority-owned by the French government – yet another reason Macron’s embargo threats are absurd.

Back in 2018, the Government’s National Infrastructure Commission suggested just one more major nuclear facility should be built beyond the new plant EDF is building at Hinkley Point in Somerset ­– even though all the UK’s existing operational plants are due to be decommissioned by 2035.

This time last year, Hitachi walked away from plans to build a plant in Anglesey, citing the “severe” investment environment created by Covid. This followed Toshiba abandoning plans for a new nuclear facility in Cumbria in 2018. On top of this, when Boris Johnson outlined his 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution in November, he didn’t even mention large-scale nuclear reactors.

While some environmental purists shun atomic energy, the industry’s hugely improved safety record means nuclear can make a major contribution to decarbonisation – “filling the renewables gap when the when the wind doesn’t blow”. Wind power, while accounting for almost a quarter of UK electricity last year, remains expensive, as well as unreliable.

Britain pioneered domestic nuclear energy – when the Calder Hall plant opened in 1956. By the mid-1960s, more nuclear power was generated here than the whole of the rest of the world put together. Since then, we seem to have lost our atomic expertise, relying not just on EDF, but nuclear operators from the US, Japan and elsewhere. This must now change.

Since this energy crisis intensified last week, it has emerged the UK government is in talks with America’s Westinghouse to build the planned large-scale reactor on Anglesey. Any deal, ahead of November’s Cop26 climate change conference, would be presented as part of efforts to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

Such a plant could become operational in the mid-2030s and generate power for 6m of the UK’s 30m or so homes.

That surely makes sense.

One downside is that a Westinghouse deal could scupper the Welsh government’s plans to use the same Anglesey site to house a small-scale nuclear reactor designed by Rolls-Royce. Such small modular facilities have yet to be approved by Britain’s regulatory authorities. But this looming winter energy scare, even if Kwarteng is right and “the lights stay on”, should surely provide a spur to speed up such approval.

Sites should also be found for more of the Rolls-Royce modular plants – as part of a broader effort to re-establish Britain’s domestic nuclear expertise, as we take vital steps to enhance our energy security.

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Lagos Govt Unveils New Guidelines On Safe, Lawful Abortions

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Lagos Govt Unveils New Guidelines On Safe, Lawful Abortions

The Lagos State government says its Ministry of Health has developed a set of policies on safe termination of pregnancy.

Tagged “Lagos State Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications,” the 40-page policy document sets out guidelines for safe termination of pregnancy within the ambit of the criminal law of the state.

Dr Olusegun Ogboye, who is the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, presented and launched the document at a stakeholders’ engagement held on Tuesday in Lagos.

He explained that the policy document was produced following the need to provide evidence-based data and information for health workers in public and private sectors who have the requisite skills and training necessary to provide safe terminations to reduce preventable deaths.

The permanent secretary added that while therapeutic termination of pregnancy was permissible under the law, the absence of clear guidelines has stalled the effective implementation at appropriate levels of care, resulting in preventable deaths.

“In 2011, the Lagos State House of Assembly updated the criminal code, providing for abortion to save the life and protect the physical health of the woman,” he said. “While physical health is covered under the Lagos legal framework, services conforming to the law have not been available in Lagos State health sector.

“This document provides information on relevant laws applicable in Lagos State while providing standards and best practices with regards to legal indications, pre and post-procedure care, methods, and monitoring. I must state here that this document has undergone wide consultation with relevant technical stakeholders within the legal and health service context in the state.”

Ogboye explained that the process to develop the guidelines commenced in 2018 with the Safe Engage project led by the ministry and hosted by the Society for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Nigeria (SOGON), with support from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB).

He added that stakeholders in the health sector worked with key opinion leaders in Lagos and the south-west region to develop a tailored advocacy tool for terminations within the legal context.

The permanent secretary pointed out that the advocacy messages on the Safe Engage project focused on two immediate outcomes, including ensuring that safe abortion services were available within legal indications in Lagos and domesticating the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, supporting women to terminate a pregnancy caused by rape or incest.

“To guide the implementation, one of the follow-up recommendations of the project was the adaptation of the National Standards and Guidelines for Safe Termination of Pregnancy within Legal Indications within the Lagos State context,” he said.

“The Federal Ministry of Health had developed and disseminated the national guidelines on safe termination of pregnancy which highlights the compendium of conditions and circumstances under which termination of pregnancy could be instituted.

“The guideline was intended to build the capacity of health professionals to identify pregnancies for which legal termination could be instituted.”

Others who spoke at the event include the Country Director of Marie Stopes International Organisation Nigeria (MSION), Emmanuel Ajah; the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Medical Sciences, Otukpo, Professor Innocent Ujah; and a Professor of Law at the University of Lagos, Ayodele Atsenuwa.

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Covid Vaccines Saved 20 Million Lives In First Year – Study

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Covid Vaccines Saved 20 Million Lives In First Year – Study

Covid vaccines prevented nearly 20 million deaths in the first year after they were introduced, according to the first large modelling study on the topic released Friday.

The study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, is based on data from 185 countries and territories collected from December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021.

It is the first attempt to estimate the number of deaths prevented directly and indirectly as a result of Covid-19 vaccinations.

It found that 19.8 million deaths were prevented out of a potential 31.4 million deaths that would have occurred if no vaccines were available.

It was a 63 percent reduction, the study found.

The study used official figures — or estimates when official data was not available — for deaths from Covid, as well as total excess deaths from each country.

Excess mortality is the difference between the total number of people who died from all causes and the number of deaths expected based on past data.

These analyses were compared with a hypothetical alternative scenario in which no vaccine was administered.

The model accounted for variation in vaccination rates across countries, as well as differences in vaccine effectiveness based on the types of vaccines known to have been primarily used in each country.

China was not included in the study because of its large population and strict containment measures, which would have skewed the results, it said.

The study found that high- and middle-income countries accounted for the largest number of deaths averted, 12.2 million out of 19.8 million, reflecting inequalities in access to vaccines worldwide.

Nearly 600,000 additional deaths could have been prevented if the World Health Organization’s (WHO) goal of vaccinating 40 percent of each country’s population by the end of 2021 had been met, it concluded.

“Millions of lives have probably been saved by making vaccines available to people around the world,” said lead study author Oliver Watson of Imperial College London.

“We could have done more,” he said.

Covid has officially killed more than 6.3 million people globally, according to the WHO.

But the organisation said last month the real number could be as high as 15 million when all direct and indirect causes are accounted for.

The figures are extremely sensitive due to how they reflect on the handling of the crisis by authorities around the world.

The virus is on the rise again in some places, including in Europe, which is seeing a warm-weather resurgence blamed in part on Omicron subvariants.

AFP

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WHO considers declaring monkeypox a global health emergency

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WHO considers declaring monkeypox a global health emergency

As the World Health Organization convenes its emergency committee Thursday to consider if the spiraling outbreak of monkeypox warrants being declared a global emergency, some experts say WHO’s decision to act only after the disease spilled into the West could entrench the grotesque inequities that arose between rich and poor countries during the coronavirus pandemic.

Declaring monkeypox to be a global emergency would mean the U.N. health agency considers the outbreak to be an “extraordinary event” and that the disease is at risk of spreading across even more borders. It would also give monkeypox the same distinction as the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio.

Many scientists doubt any such declaration would help to curb the epidemic, since the developed countries recording the most recent cases are already moving quickly to shut it down.

Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the recent monkeypox epidemic identified in more than 40 countries, mostly in Europe, as “unusual and concerning.” Monkeypox has sickened people for decades in central and west Africa, where one version of the disease kills up to 10% of people. In the epidemic beyond Africa so far, no deaths have been reported.

“If WHO was really worried about monkeypox spread, they could have convened their emergency committee years ago when it reemerged in Nigeria in 2017 and no one knew why we suddenly had hundreds of cases,” said Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist who sits on several WHO advisory groups. “It is a bit curious that WHO only called their experts when the disease showed up in white countries,” he said.

Until last month, monkeypox had not caused sizeable outbreaks beyond Africa. Scientists haven’t found any major genetic changes in the virus and a leading adviser to WHO said last month the surge of cases in Europe was likely tied to sexual activity among gay and bisexual men at two raves in Spain and Belgium.

To date, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed more than 3,300 cases of monkeypox in 42 countries where the virus hasn’t been typically seen. More than 80% of cases are in Europe. Meanwhile, Africa has already seen more than 1,400 cases this year, including 62 deaths.

David Fidler, a senior fellow in global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said WHO’s newfound attention to monkeypox amid its spread beyond Africa could inadvertently worsen the divide between rich and poor countries seen during COVID-19.

“There may be legitimate reasons why WHO only raised the alarm when monkeypox spread to rich countries, but to poor countries, that looks like a double standard,” Fidler said. He said the global community was still struggling to ensure the world’s poor were vaccinated against the coronavirus and that it was unclear if Africans even wanted monkeypox vaccines, given competing priorities like malaria and HIV.

“Unless African governments specifically ask for vaccines, it might be a bit patronizing to send them because it’s in the West’s interest to stop monkeypox from being exported,” Fidler said.

WHO has also proposed creating a vaccine-sharing mechanism to help affected countries, which could see doses go to rich countries like Britain, which has the biggest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa — and recently widened its use of vaccines.

To date, the vast majority of cases in Europe have been in men who are gay or bisexual, or other men who have sex with men, but scientists warn anyone in close contact with an infected person or their clothing or bedsheets is at risk of infection, regardless of their sexual orientation. People with monkeypox often experience symptoms like fever, body aches and a rash; most recover within weeks without needing medical care.

Even if WHO announces monkeypox is a global emergency, it’s unclear what impact that might have.

In January 2020, WHO declared that COVID-19 was an international emergency. But few countries took notice until March, when the organization described it as a pandemic, weeks after many other authorities did so. WHO was later slammed for its multiple missteps throughout the pandemic, which some experts said might be prompting a quicker monkeypox response.

“After COVID, WHO does not want to be the last to declare monkeypox an emergency,” said Amanda Glassman, executive vice president at the Center for Global Development. “This may not rise to the level of a COVID-like emergency, but it is still a public health emergency that needs to be addressed.”

Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist and vice chancellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, said WHO and others should be doing more to stop monkeypox in Africa and elsewhere, but wasn’t convinced that a global emergency declaration would help.

“There is this misplaced idea that Africa is this poor, helpless continent, when in fact, we do know how to deal with epidemics,” said Abdool Karim. He said that stopping the outbreak ultimately depends on things like surveillance, isolating patients and public education.

“Maybe they need vaccines in Europe to stop monkeypox, but here, we have been able to control it with very simple measures,” he said.

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