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The 110 billion pound question

David Rose, in a blistering article at the Mail on Sunday, asks:

Why IS Britain about to pay £110billion to enter a new Dark Age?

There is considerable discussion of whether we should be focusing on developing nuclear fusion. That would certainly seem like a sensible way forward. Given that climate sensitivity looks to be only around 1.5, we have the best part of a century to bring such a project to fruition before GDP falls much below current levels.

In the meantime, Andrew Neil has been reading the tea-leaves of David Cameron's interview on the Marr Show this morning. On his Twitter feed Neil says he reckons the public is being softened up ahead of the UK losing its AAA credit rating. Adding higher interest rates to the burdens the public are having to endure is going to make it much harder for the political classes to continue along the path they are currently treading.


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Reader Comments (26)

What does anyone calculate a couple of Thorium reactors to cost? Seems to me, $110 billion would go a long way towards those.

Jan 6, 2013 at 11:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterOtter

I hear the sound of distant tumbril's

Jan 6, 2013 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

Over 20 years ago, the UK Government cut funding for the fusion reactor project near Oxford and also for fast-breeder fission research. That's one reason that commercial fusion operation remains some distance into the future.

Jan 6, 2013 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

At J.E.T. situated close to Culham, good progress is being made in Fusion technology, J.E.T. has now added the role of prototype for the ITER reactor to its portfolio. Their web site has much more detailed scientific imformation and links to scientific papers than the ITER web site which at the moment is imforming viewers of the stages of construction of the site. $110 billion would solve Fusion, the ITER project budget is less than 40 billion Euros for the whole 35 year projected life span, so that sort of investment would have Thorium Reactors online in 10 years.

Jan 6, 2013 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered Commenterjohnnyrvf

I know I sound like a a stuck record, but the IS the the reason. The idea that global politicians would suddenly convert something as daft as environmentalism makes no sense. The reason Britain leads the way is that London is projected to be the biggest winner.

Carbon trading could be worth twice that of oil in next decade

The carbon market could become double the size of the vast oil market, according to the new breed of City players who trade greenhouse gas emissions through the EU's emissions trading scheme.

The ETS market may see $3tn (£1.8tn) worth of transactions a year in the next decade or two, according to Andrew Ager, head of emissions trading at Bache Commodities in London, with it even being used as a hedge against falling equities or rising inflation. "It is still a relatively new industry with annual trades of around €300bn every year. But this could grow to around $3tn compared to the $1.5tn market there is for oil," says Ager, who used to be a foreign currencies trader.

The speed of that growth will depend on whether the Copenhagen summit gives a go-ahead for a low-carbon economy, but Ager says whatever happens schemes such as the ETS will expand around the globe.

Jan 6, 2013 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Adding higher interest rates to the burdens the public
The US lost it's AAA rating in August 2011, that didn't change much....

Jan 6, 2013 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterHoi Polloi

This is my web page of links to the history of carbon trading

Jan 6, 2013 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

"There is considerable discussion of whether we should be focusing on developing nuclear fusion. That would certainly seem like a sensible way forward": wot, again? It's always bloody forty years in the future.

Jan 6, 2013 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

UK 10 year gilt % interest rates are now above France's, considering France has already lost its AAA status it speaks volumes.

Jan 6, 2013 at 12:40 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

Re: fusion. I remember my university prospectus had an exciting picture of the JET reactor chamber on the cover. That was back in 1987. Time to call it a day.

Jan 6, 2013 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterChilli

So carbon trading is a "new industry".

I suspect that the morons that run the city institutions have never had a real job that actually produced something in their lives, and probably never met anyone who did, so have completely lost sight of what an "industry" is.

The completely brain-dead concept that trading numbers on worthless bits of paper can in any way compare with trading with one of the most valuable products the world has seen in the past 50 years shows how totally divorced from reality these 'traders' have become.

I despair.

Jan 6, 2013 at 12:54 PM | Registered Commentersteve ta


You probably won't approve of this. It was the derivative market that crashed the global economy, but we aren't supposed to know that.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United States, the value of our economy, is roughly $15 trillion. The GDP of the entire world is $63 trillion.

According to the Office Of The Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) the value of the derivatives on the books at J.P Morgan is $70 trillion.

Jan 6, 2013 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

There is a saying about nuclear fusion. It is the power of the next generation. They were saying that in the 1970s when I was getting my doctorate in the field. They are saying it now. It is always for the next generation. It will eventually arrive, and unlike wind and solar, does have the potential to be a serious source of power. However, it makes little sense to rely on technologies which are not yet proven when we have so many which are.

Jan 6, 2013 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterTregonsee

A much to be welcomed article, especially in the Guardian, though the fusion story is a little to upbeat, shall we say!

Although we might agree that the funding for windmills is absurd, we still need to question where this created wealth should be invested, if all all!

David Rose has probably heard the old tale that power from (man made) fusion reactors will be within our grasp with 40 years. Unfortunately, this story has been around for over 40 years! It is, perhaps, significant that after 40 years, most, if not all, those currently employed will have retired, and so be not accountable for failure to meet any deadline.

The successor to Culham, being built at Aix-en-Provence, though not named in the article, must be(?) ITER and is a very large international effort. When this amount of collaboration occurs it is often an indication that many nations have realized that the effort to solve all the problems, with all the risks and uncertainties involved, cannot be found within one nation. Even China, Russia and the USA have not it gone it alone. It is probably why British spending in this area has been reduced. It is why ITER was set up: to continue progress, but at a reduced cost. It is not a though we have any spare money, if we have any at all!

My understanding is that trying to construct a container for the reaction is much (much!) harder than was expected. If there was any chance of a quick solution to this approach, do you really think that the other countries would have joined in. Also, it might be that it is a politically convenient way of parking a good idea with no good outcome.

With this in mind, Brian Cox's and Stephen Hawking's statements that the fusion budget should be increased tenfold only, shows what headline seeking people they are!

They should be telling us what would be done with the new investment and what the business plan should be, but for some reason, this isn't mentioned in the article. If we increased spending, any gain would inevitability end up in the shared pool, so I don't think the money would be well spent.

It is not easy to be a 'world expert' on one area of Physics, though it is amazing how some celebrities, particularly members of pop groups, think they are, and across more than one area at that!

"Prof Cowley said it was unlikely that a commercial model would be built in Europe before the 2040s – though China may beat us to it. "
And then again, they might not beat us! There is also the possibility that they might not build one at all. They might build some Thorium reactors instead, or as well as, or something else altogether!

"Professor Steve Cowley, the project’s director, told me that by the mid-2020s, there would be a ‘Wright Brothers moment’ when people finally grasped that commercial fusion power was attainable"

So the mid-2020's? Would that be, after he retired? Strike me down with a feather!

(Tregonsee: just seen your post, and isn't it so déjà vu?)

Jan 6, 2013 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Christopher

The way I have looked at fusion since it's outset is by looking at the sun. The sun holds it's fuel within the reaction chamber and creates massive turbulance at the surface. It cannot hold the plasma within it's grasp so can we do so in a machine which has to be fed with fuel from outside.?

Jan 6, 2013 at 2:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

"we have the best part of a century to bring such a project to fruition before GDP falls much below current levels."

Err, I'm sorry, but I do hope that's you gargling whatever it is that you wanted to say.

Absolutely no one is saying that, even with "catastrophic" climate change, that GDP will be at current or lower levels.

OK, no one serious at least. Not Stern, not the IPCC, not anyone at all that should be treated with even a modicum of seriousness.

The statement is, rather, that CAGW would reduce GDP to below what it would have been without CAGW by 20% (that's Stern).

Which leads us to what is GDP going to be in the future without CAGW, to which we can apply our 20% discount because of CAGW (assuming, of course, that we believe all this).

To which the answer is, from the IPPC, that the economy in 2100 AD will be between 5x and 11 x the size of the economy in 1990 AD (it's actually all in the SRES, the economic models which underpin everything).

The 20% discount then applies to that economy 500% or 1,100% larger than the current one. Not a 20% discount to the current one.

I do hope Andrew's just garbled what he meant to say. For absolutely no one at all is claiming that the economy in 87 years' time is going to be smaller than the current one, no, not even if CAGW does happen.

Jan 6, 2013 at 3:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim Worstall


Tol 2009 Fig 1.

Having re-read the paper, I note that Tol says the studies shown are future-static, i.e. they apply a future climate to today's economy. That being the case, I think you are right about there being future growth to apply on top.

Jan 6, 2013 at 3:16 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

We've had the "dot com" boom and bust, now for the "dot co2" version.

Jan 6, 2013 at 3:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave_G

I don't think we need fusion.

Conventional fission works and can give us virtually unlimited energy for billions of years. The problems are entirely political. If fusion looked like working then the political interestrs attacking fission would round on fusion too, as they have with shale gas.

Doesn't mean we shouldn't do research on fusion, particularly LENR but don't let the possibility of it working some time in the future distract from the fact that we can end current energy costs at any time.

Jan 6, 2013 at 3:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

AAA status has no perceptible effect on government borrowing costs - see good discussion here

Jan 6, 2013 at 3:26 PM | Unregistered Commentermikep

Jan 6, 2013 at 12:52 PM | Chilli

Re: fusion. I remember my university prospectus had an exciting picture of the JET reactor chamber on the cover. That was back in 1987. Time to call it a day.

I don't really see time as being the issue here. We know that fusion is very real and has potential as a useful energy source. Giving up because it is difficult doesn't seem very human.

The whole project requires cutting edge developments in so many fields. The real time control of the magnetic container alone could never have happened without developments in microprocessors, communications, control theory .... These developments were theoretical for most of the 40 years that people often cite as how long we have been working on the problems.

The progress made over the 40 years seems to have been exponential - what more could one wish for? Nobody has ever suggested it would be easy.

Jan 6, 2013 at 3:44 PM | Unregistered Commenter3x2

A while back now I was going to do a blog and call it "The Lunatics are Running the Asylum".

I didn't in the end for a few reasons -

1. I couldn't give it the sort of dedication and intellect that the best bloggers like the Bish do. And the better half thinks I spend too much time on the web as it is.

2. I realised that I would probably run foul of the PC brigade who would say I was denigrating the mentally ill.

3. It was too obvious to too many that the blog title was just bleedin obvious.

Jan 6, 2013 at 5:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterRetired Dave

Sad that at time of writing the Mail article has only attracted 4 comments. It doesn't help that it's buried away on the website either.

Jan 6, 2013 at 6:02 PM | Registered Commenterwoodentop

The Mail will have attracted a large volume of comments, including mine, but are not posting any more since the first four.

Jan 6, 2013 at 9:19 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Didn't a previous US President say something along the lines of, "...we choose to go to the moon and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard." Looks like some would now rather shy away from anything perceived as difficult - there goes progress.

Jan 6, 2013 at 10:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

See! We didn't have long to wait, did we, for an answer?

China blazes trail for 'clean' nuclear power from thorium
"The Chinese are running away with thorium energy, sharpening a global race for the prize of clean, cheap, and safe nuclear power. Good luck to them. They may do us all a favour."

I can remember a time when British scientists would have been involved, to be up among the leaders.

Jan 7, 2013 at 2:40 AM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

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