The nuclear New Deal

I’ve just been lucky enough to see Gordon Brown’s notes for a speech he will give in a few weeks time at the Walter Mitty Institute. It may be worth sharing some of his thoughts.


Governments in the past have invested in public works programmes as a way of getting economies moving. These investments have often resulted in permanent benefit to their societies. Take the massive projects set up by Roosevelt in the United States. The great hydro-electric dams of the American south and west were all funded by the public purse. They gave employment to many and provided cheap electricity for millions.

The government has decided to copy this far-sighted programme in this country. In the 1930’s hydro-electricity represented a good choice for producing electricity. Now the answer is nuclear and we have decided to make the construction of new power stations your government’s priority for a British version of the New Deal. British Energy’s new owners, Electricité de France have agreed with us a programme to bring forward the construction of two new nuclear power stations. These two plants will provide many thousands of jobs and allow us to construct the electric generating capacity that this country so urgently needs.

As is well known, EDF has strong links through their mutual shareholder, the French state, with Areva, the world’s most experienced nuclear construction company. EDF has kindly asked Areva to quote for these two nuclear power station and to go ahead immediately and construct them within the next five years, or, if this is not possible, as quickly as they can manage.

Short-sighted critics will complain that Areva’s track record is indifferent. They will point to ever-lengthening delays at Areva’s new Finnish power station. Only a fortnight ago, they will carp, the Finns announced that the plant won’t even start full testing until 2012, or almost 4 years later than expected. We should regard the fact that construction is going to take twice as long as predicted as good news, since it maintains employment levels for far longer.

Let me move on to the issue of employment levels. The Finnish plant was initially only supposed to hire 2,000 workers at the period of peak construction. There are now 4,000 people working there, showing what wonderful job creation schemes nuclear power plants represent. Of course, very few of these people are actually from Finland even though the Finns will pay much of the construction cost. More of the workforce actually come from Poland, easing unemployment worries in that country. The repeated concerns expressed by the Finnish nuclear safety inspectorate over the quality of the welding done on the crucial safety systems by the Polish subcontractors are entirely unwarranted. I think most householders in this country can confirm that most Polish staff are actually reliable and hardworking. If they can repair British central heating boilers, they can certainly manage to build nuclear pipework intended to carry superheated steam for sixty years.

Other moaning minnies have pointed out that Japan Steel Works operates the only foundry in the world that can cast the reactor pressure vessel and it already has a full order book for many years to come. This is the kind of unhelpful remark based on factual evidence that makes energy policy making in this country so difficult.

I also hear people grumbling about the cost of nuclear. But the Finns got their plant on a fixed price contract. A bargain at only €3bn, in fact. Like you, I have seen rumours that the actual cost will be well over €6bn, but we should not be worried because the French state is generously picking up the tab for the excess. In fact, the French are so unconcerned that they are helpfully refusing to tell the Finns just how much the cost overruns are. We can only hope that it will be similarly profligate when it comes to building our new nuclear power stations in the UK.

Although it may indeed be the case that the full cost of at least €6bn for each power station would buy far more power from wind turbines, there are fewer large companies eager to lobby us to allow this to happen. We have therefore decided that the best way forward is to provide immediate approval for EDF’s nuclear construction programme as part of our enhanced public works project. I can provide a binding commitment to you today that the public will – as usual – be consulted well after all important decisions have been made.