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Mini Nukes Can Fix Britain’s Energy Woes

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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Health

Group hails IG as mother accused Hospital of stealing Placenta

The Inspector General of Police, (IG) Kayode Egbetokun has received praises for the prompt arrest of suspects accused of stealing the placenta of a new born baby in privated hospital located in Kwara State. The suspects were taken from Ilofa to Ilorin, the Kwara State capital on Thursday.
In a statement signed by NHRC’s official, Mr Taiwo Adeleye said the arrest of the suspects was an important step towards securing justice for the families of Mr Rotimi Williams whose wife accused health officials at a private hospital of stealing the placenta of her new born baby.
The Nigerian Human Rights Community, (NHRC),a coalition of 130 civil society groups spread across Nigeria on Thursday expressed delight at the arrest of the suspects by the police.
The group said it was aware of plots by some powerful individuals to clog the wheel of justice but was delighted that the IG has brought hope to the despairing family. It called for full investigation that would lead to the arrest and prosecution of all culprits.
Few days ago, Mrs Williams accused the management of Cottage hospital, Ilofa, Kwara State of failing to account for the placenta of her new born baby. In complaints lodged with the NHRC, Mrs Williams said a nurse, Mrs Alabi took the delivery, one nurse Adeloye cleaned up the baby while one Mrs Toyin, a ward attendant claimed she mistakenly threw away the placenta.
“In Nigerian agelong tradition, the placenta is linked to the spiritual and physical wellbeing of a new born baby. There is a customary and agelong way of burying placenta of which every medical staff is aware.The disappearance of a baby’s placenta is a source of eternal trauma for the parents and a prelude to impugn the future of the child based on timeless tradition and beliefs,” the NHRC said.
The Coalition said the placenta could be stolen for rituals, adding that stealing a placenta is like killing the child or using the child for ritual by other means The group said it would follow-up the case “day and night” to ensure justice is done. The NHRC said Mrs Toyin brought out the mother’s bags from the labour room but failed to take the placenta along.
The rights group said one Mrs Ayoni Awolusi in the course of the delivery, claimed she was to be on duty but was absent. The medical personnel expected to be on dury was Dr. Ajibola. NHRC said Mrs Williams put to bed around 7pm on Sunday May 12 but discovered the missing placenta very early on Monday 13th, May.
The group called on the IG to intensify the probe and ensure every one connected with the gory episode is brought to justice

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AstraZeneca withdraws COVID-19 vaccines from market as demand reduces

Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca on Wednesday said it was withdrawing Covid vaccine Vaxzevria, one of the first produced in the deadly pandemic, citing “commercial reasons” following a slump in demand.

“As multiple, variant Covid-19 vaccines have since been developed there is a surplus of available updated vaccines. This has led to a decline in demand for Vaxzevria, which is no longer being manufactured or supplied,” an AstraZeneca spokesperson added in a statement.

“We will now work with regulators and our partners to align on a clear path forward to conclude this chapter and significant contribution to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

AstraZeneca rapidly developed the successful Covid-19 jab during the coronavirus pandemic which erupted in the first half of 2020.

Vaxzevria, developed alongside Oxford University, was at first offered at cost but Astra decided in late 2021 to sell it for profit.

But the world pivoted towards mRNA vaccines, particularly the one produced by US drugs giant Pfizer and German peer BioNTech, after rare blood-clot problems with Astra’s jab increased public hesitancy about taking it.

Sales collapsed further as global Covid restrictions were fully lifted worldwide and the world emerged from the global health crisis.

The AstraZeneca spokesperson said the group had begun the process from taking it off the market in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMA) region.

The company will work with other regulators globally to start market authorisation withdrawals for the Vaxzevria “where no future commercial demand for the vaccine is expected”.

The spokesperson said that, according to independent estimates, “over 6.5 million lives were saved in the first year of use alone” and more than three billion doses were supplied globally.

“We are incredibly proud of the role Vaxzevria played in ending the global pandemic,” the spokesperson said.

“Our efforts have been recognised by governments around the world and are widely regarded as being a critical component of ending the global pandemic. ”

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NMA lauds Police for arresting fake doctor in Lagos

The Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, has commended the Nigerian Police Force for arresting an alleged fake medical doctor.

In an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria on Tuesday in Lagos, Dr Benjamin Olowojebutu, Chairman, NMA Lagos, said the arrest will strengthen the association’s fight against quackery in the medical profession.

Olowojebutu explained that medical quackery was a dangerous practice that posed a threat to the well-being of citizens and the delivery of quality healthcare in the state, and country.

“The arrest is a welcome development for the health sector; we would expose these quacks and ensure that Lagos does not suffer further morbidity and mortality from their nefarious activities.

“We are glad that our work on anti-quackery has started yielding progress as we are determined to weed out quacks from the medical profession,” he said.

The chairman pledged that NMA Lagos, with the support of the Ministry of Health, Health Monitoring and Accreditation Agency, HEFAMAA, and police, would eradicate quacks from the state.

According to him, the association would hold an anti-quackery summit soon, after which it would present a white paper to the Lagos State Government on anti-quackery.

Olowojebutu warned hospitals to refrain from employing staff whose certificates and licences had not been verified by the MDCN to safeguard the health of the populace.

The 37-year-old medical practitioner with suspected forged certificates was arrested by police at Skylink Medical Centre, Elepe-Ikorodu.

The police said they arrested the suspect, who claimed to be the managing director of the health facility, based on intelligence gathered by the command through members of the Elepe community concerning the activities of the suspect.

The police recovered two suspected forged certificates of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State and the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, MDCN, after searching for the facility.

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