Monday, 14 December 2009

Nuclear and Budgets

I am writing this on the long train to Strasbourg. Leaving home at 7.45 am on a Monday morning I will get to my desk about 5.30 pm this evening – when I started this job there was a direct flight from City Airport but since that has been stopped I have been trying out the train route via Paris. Whilst I moan a lot, it uses less energy than flying (mentally as well as fuel wise) and a good chance to catch up on reading the wedge of papers in my case measures up to about 5 inches.

I have found that the Copenhagen summit has been a good time to focus on Energy use. Last week I joined a group from the European Parliament to visit one of Belgium’s nuclear power stations. In Belgium over 50% of electricity comes from nuclear power and given the UK’s recent commitment to replacing our Nuclear power station I thought it would be useful to see how it works in a country that is so nuclear dependent.

It really was a once in a lifetime experience. The plant was on shut down whilst having its massive steam generators replaced so we were allowed to go right into the heart of the operations. “Kicking the tyres” on a site visit is incredibly helpful. I had gone with 3 questions in mind – Security, Safety, and what to do with the Waste. Security was tight, I eventually lost count of the number of secure locks that I passed through. I expected Safety procedures to be very high – they were, we were each scanned for radiation many times on the way in and out to absolutely make sure that no one risked exposure – it was interesting to learn that there are actually more incidents of over exposure to radiation in the medical world than in the power arena due to medical applications like radiotherapy. However our guide left us in no doubt that politicians need to be very focused on the Waste issue. Even if no more power stations were ever to be built, nuclear waste exists today. Decisions need to be made and we learnt a lot about the options but it was quite depressing that even on this very detailed opportunity to visit a plant just an hour from the Parliament only two MEPs had joined the tour group.

This week in Strasbourg we will be voting on the EU budget. It is incredibly frustrating that there appears to be very little concern in the European Parliament for keeping costs under control. The budget has increased considerably from its initial drafts back in September – for some good reasons – but it appears that the amendments are always upwards and never down. At a time when our national finances are under such strain I would have thought Brussels could tighten its belt.

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