Auction of British Energy

A letter to the Editor (The Times).

The report in your business pages today (May10th 2008) about the difficulties being encountered in selling off British Energy raises the question as to why it should be sold at all. How would the national interest in this vital area be served by a sale to predominantly foreign companies?

British Energy operates most of our existing nuclear stations: has its board no ambition to remain the leading British company in the nuclear field? Sure it may not, at this moment, have all the expertise it needs to construct new stations and it will need new cash.

It can acquire expertise through recruitment and a partnership, say, with Westinghouse, a company which was actually owned by British Nuclear Fuels Limited before the latter was improvidently forced to sell to the highest bidder by Gordon Brown in 2006. So far as cash-raising is concerned, many will wonder why a Bank of England that is so free with taxpayers’ money to bail out the banks, cannot devise a scheme to secure what is literally the energy future of the whole country.

Beyond the immediate issue of construction using existing designs, there is the wider issue of our future education and national capability in a whole range of engineering fields which supply expertise and equipment to the nuclear industry. If British Energy is sold to any of the current bidders, it will mean that most of the high-level design work on new reactors and components will be undertaken by foreign engineers, while the only future that this country will offer our own engineering graduates in these vital fields is working for one or more companies where decisions about their careers will be taken ultimately in Paris, the USA, or Japan.

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