Politicians don't build nuclear power plants, builders do

July 14, 2008 10:54 AM

Today we learned that:

"Ministers are to build eight new nuclear power stations across England, the Daily Telegraph can disclose."

I'm pretty confident that even if the entire 135-strong payroll vote (PDF) is mobilised that won't quite be enough to get eight nuclear power stations built.  Beyond the obvious labour shortages I'm not sure that ministers' careers in the unions, journalism or the law have left them with the expertise to produce a functioning nuclear power plant.


Of course, in reality ministers are only providing planning permission but the underlying attitude, that things get done when ministers command that they be done, is dangerous.  An attitude which expects Government to take action and interfere from the top in the day-to-day delivery of services is responsible for so much poor performance in the public services.


Energy policy, over the last decade, has been an utter disaster.  John Constable, of the Renewable Energy Foundation, in an article for Power UK, Is the future of UK electricity dark, dirty and costly? (PDF), highlights how bad the situation has become.  He suggests another approach, where ministers are far less interventionist:

This disingenuous inteventionism has combined with complacency towards the flaws in the electricity market system (BETTA) and resulted in a decade during which many billions of pounds of assets have been written down, the nuclear industry almost bankrupted, and an imprudent over-commitment to gas generation compounded.


In my view the only way of ensuring rapid remedial action is for government to actually rather than apparently withdraw from the system, so liberating energy market participants to respond commercially to the situation as it now stands. This opinion is not informed by doctrinal libertarian affection for the free market but rather a practical recognition that no government or any single market participant can gather and assimilate sufficient information to design and realise a satisfactory outcome. Only the intellectual action of the market in aggregate, and through competition, has a reasonable chance of producing an optimal result.

Today we learned that:

"Ministers are to build eight new nuclear power stations across England, the Daily Telegraph can disclose."

I'm pretty confident that even if the entire 135-strong payroll vote (PDF) is mobilised that won't quite be enough to get eight nuclear power stations built.  Beyond the obvious labour shortages I'm not sure that ministers' careers in the unions, journalism or the law have left them with the expertise to produce a functioning nuclear power plant.


Of course, in reality ministers are only providing planning permission but the underlying attitude, that things get done when ministers command that they be done, is dangerous.  An attitude which expects Government to take action and interfere from the top in the day-to-day delivery of services is responsible for so much poor performance in the public services.


Energy policy, over the last decade, has been an utter disaster.  John Constable, of the Renewable Energy Foundation, in an article for Power UK, Is the future of UK electricity dark, dirty and costly? (PDF), highlights how bad the situation has become.  He suggests another approach, where ministers are far less interventionist:

This disingenuous inteventionism has combined with complacency towards the flaws in the electricity market system (BETTA) and resulted in a decade during which many billions of pounds of assets have been written down, the nuclear industry almost bankrupted, and an imprudent over-commitment to gas generation compounded.


In my view the only way of ensuring rapid remedial action is for government to actually rather than apparently withdraw from the system, so liberating energy market participants to respond commercially to the situation as it now stands. This opinion is not informed by doctrinal libertarian affection for the free market but rather a practical recognition that no government or any single market participant can gather and assimilate sufficient information to design and realise a satisfactory outcome. Only the intellectual action of the market in aggregate, and through competition, has a reasonable chance of producing an optimal result.

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