Thursday, 26 November 2020

El Diego: class is eternal

I only saw the incomparable Diego Armando Maradona play one in the flesh, in a friendly encounter at Wembley Stadium in the summer of 1987, when Maradona outshone everyone else on the pitch - Michel Platini and Gary Lineker- -big stars all: but not as blazingly bright as the unique urchin of Buenos Aires. El Diego’s team lost 3-0 on that day, 8 August 1987, but the score-line was irrelevant: the master had performed. (www.11v11.com/matches/football-league-v-rest-of-the-world-08-august-1987-240579/) Maradona was brave to show up for this match, as just over a year earlier, he had helped dump England out of the 1986 World Cup, in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, with his infamous Hand-of-God ‘Goal’. To say the least, he was widely disliked in England. I had watched that game, not in England, but in a bar in Miami, on holiday. I recall it very well. When Maradona punched in his first goal, it barely caused a ripple in the bar. The US was not, then, much interested in soccer (as it was called, in contrast the football - the US version that permits handling the ball by all players). Maradona, barely five feet five inches tall, had out-jumped England’s excellent goalkeeper, Peter Shilton, 6 feet one inches tall. But a few minutes later, when Maradona won the ball in a skirmish in the centre circle on then bumpy recently re-laid turf, and headed at speed for the England goal, leaving six desperate England players in his wake in a mazy run, before poking the ball passed an already shattered Shilton for the winning goal, the entire bar rose to its feet in unison, applauding. They- we- had just witnessed in real time, the best World Cup goal ever. And the little diablo from Argentina had scored it. Gary Lineker, in that England team, later said it was the only time he felt like clapping a goal scored against his own team. Extraordinary. Fast forward to November 2020. In the current issue of the monthly football magazine 4-4-2 whose cover is adorned by current Argentine super star, Lionel Messi, they perchance run an excellent series of articles on Maradona: the untold stories. Being barely educated urchin from a barrio on the SE outskirts of Buenos Aires, refined speech was not his forte. And so, fresh off a 6-1 thumping by Bolivia in La Paz, early in his managerial term of Argentina in October 2009, he faced off a hostile Argentine football press at the press conference before his next match, in Montevideo, opening his press conference with “You lot take it up the arse!” As 4-4-2 observed, that’s a tone setting sentence if there ever was one. Indeed. Messi said on hearing of EL Diego’s death: “He leaves us but he does not leave, because Diego is eternal.” Too true. A short life, Diego died at barely 60; but his memory will live long.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Government mismanagement and Orwellian Secrecy

Two letters to the press on Government mis-managment: I was very interested to read your article on the new report ‘Art of Darkness’, by the information lobby group Open Democracy, (“'Orwellian' government unit obstructs freedom of information, says report,“ 25 November) Since the FOI Act 2000 came into force in 2005, I have made many FOI submissions to several different Government departments and quangos. It has become clear that the speed of response has slowed down markedly, and degree of disclosure has become significantly eroded through redaction, or downright refusal to provide substantive response. In one instance, an application made to the national nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, (ONR) on its review of small modular nuclear reactor (SMRs) and advanced nuclear reactors (ANTs) - originally submitted in August 2019 - has still not been fully substantively answered. ONR several times asked me to limit the scope of my application by time periods and areas on interest. I was invited to speak to different ONR experts by phone, nominally so they could understand exactly what information I was seeking, but in practice to reduce significantly the scope of my FOI request, to limit disclosure. I persisted with my application early this year, despite being hospitalised by a serious illness, and in the spring received an opprobrious letter from the chief executive, de facto telling me off for being so persistent in demanding they disclose the requested information, and complaining the delays were unacceptable.. Now, with the revelation of this cabinet office clearing house, I can put 2 and 2 together, and understand why ONR has creatively stalled replying in full. I have asked ONR whether they passed on my original request to this clearing house, rightly labeled as Orwellian. I trust it will not take another 15 months to find out the answer! >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> The Daily Mail has provided an important public service in its excellent Monday morning expose of the widespread misuse and waste of hard-earned taxpayers’ money( Daily Mail) on an extraordinary range of luxuries and fripperies. I would however take exception to the inclusion of ergonomically designed office chairs. I regard Government departments and some quangos providing these for staff forced to work at home due to the Coronacrisis as a sensible investment. Significant time off work is caused by chronic lower back trouble, which is sometimes initiated or exacerbated by poor sitting posture at work desks. Such problem are recurring. Even at several £ hundred each, such properly designed chairs engineered to create proper body posture are sensible ways to avoid very painful absence from work in future. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water!

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Priti imperfect

The country does not want to be run by people who behave “discourteously and unpleasantly.” So said Allegra Stratton, the Prime minister’s new spokeswoman at the beginning of the week. Barely five days later, her new boss exonerates one of his own cabinet, after an independent report finds her guilty of the very nasty bullying behaviour Stratton excoriates. Welcome to 10 Downing Street, Allegra. And good luck!

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Boris Johnson plays truth or dare with nuclear power

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is not a details man; and he often plays fast-and-loose with the truth. So it should not really come as a surprise that the document he issued in support of his ‘Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’ contains inaccuracies. (“Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, Cabinet Office, 19 November 2020; https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/936567/10_POINT_PLAN_BOOKLET.pdf”) I am sure he did not write it himself, so specialist officials who prepared it, have been prepared to write in his happy-go-lucky casual relation with the truth in the text they crafted. The section covering Point 3: Delivering New and Advanced Nuclear Power, is a good exemplar of a perpetuated inaccuracy by nuclear cheerleaders, who rewrite history for modern convenience. In the second paragraph of this section, its states: “The UK was home to the world’s first full-scale civil nuclear power station more than sixty years ago… “ The nuclear plants in question are not named, but sixty years ago there were only four nuclear power reactor plants operating in the UK. Two were experimental reactors in Scotland: the Dounreay Materials Test Reactor (DMTR) that went critical in May 1958; and the Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR), which achieved criticality on 14 November 1959.( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dounreay#Dounreay_Nuclear_Power_Development_Establishment) The only other two reactors operating were the Chapel Cross Magnox production reactor in Annan, Dumfries and Galloway, in 1959, which did generate electricity, but primarily was used to produce weapons-useable plutonium, and tritium from inserted lithium, to enhance hydrogen nuclear warhead explosions (https://www.secretscotla nd.org.uk/index.php/Secrets/ChapelcrossNuclearPowerStation). And Calder Hall, on the Sellafield site in Cumbria, which was opened on 17th October 1956 by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 2nd (“60th anniversary of 'iconic' Calder Hall opening” (Monday 17 October http://www.whitehavennews.co.uk/news/60th-anniversary-of-iconic-Calder-Hall-opening-f6218524-267e-4edf-88a9-18ce43066fae-ds). The young Queen Elizabeth’s script writer penned the following for Her Majesty to say from the podium: “This new power, which has proved itself to be such a terrifying weapon of destruction, is harnessed for the first time for the common good of our community." It was hailed as an "epoch-making" event by then Lord Privy Seal, Richard Butler; but it was, however, a gross deception of the British public. (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/films/1951to1964/filmpage_atomic.htm) In fact it was clearly stated at the time of the plant’s opening, in a remarkable little book entitled Calder Hall: The Story of Britain’s First Atomic Power Station, written by Kenneth Jay, and published in October 1956 by the Government’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell to mark Calder’s commissioning. Mr Jay wrote: “Major plants built for military purposes such as Calder Hall are being used as prototypes for civil plants . . . the plant has been designed as a dual-purpose plant to produce plutonium for military purposes as well as electric power . . . it would be wrong to pretend that the civil programme has not benefitted from, and is not to some extent dependent upon, the military programme." As it happens, on Monday this week I took part in a conference call with four officials from Radioactive Waste Management Limited (RWML)- responsible the long-term management/ disposal of the UK’s radioactive waste stockpile- arranged had complained about several factual misrepresentations in RWML’s digital and/or printed media materials. One of the misrepresentations of complained, was the persistent description of Calder Hall as a commercial or civil nuclear power plant. When we arrived at the discussion of this point, RWML head of Communications , Guy Esnouf, conceded I had been right all along, and henceforth they would describe Calder Hall correctly. So should Boris Johnson!

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Green deal Boris Boosterism fails to make power choices

Letter submitted to The Financial Times: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, writing from inside his isolated bunker at Downing Street, seems to be more out of touch with reality than normal (“Now is the time to plan Britain’s green recovery,” Opinion, November 18). His mish-mash of ideas on greening the UK economy is not a plan in any thought out m way, as he has not recognised that in energy/electricity systems planning, you just cannot have a bit of everything on offer. The physical systems require very careful integration. Thus, he asserts he wants lots more offshore wind (point one; and more large and small scale nuclear (point 3). This won’t work, especially if the aim is to set in place a long term strategy for power generation to ensure the UK meets is carbon emission reduction target of net zero by 2050. The main exigency he fails to understand is the more nuclear is deployed, recent empirical evidence shows it crowds out the deployment of wind, solar and potentially tidal power. In early October, two experience energy academics at the University of Sussex, by Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool and Professor Andy Stirling, published detailed analytic paper “Differences in carbon emissions reduction between countries pursuing renewable electricity versus nuclear power” in Nature Energy. (https://socialsciences.nature.com/posts/the-sustainability-of-nuclear-power-and-the-critical-importance-of-independent-research) Their paper focuses specifically on situations in which real-world constraints mean strategic choices must be made on resource allocation between nuclear or renewables-based electricity, and explores this dilemma retrospectively, by, they stress “examining past patterns in the attachments (i.e. investments) of different countries to nuclear or renewable strategies.” They conclude, inter alia, that countries with a greater attachment to nuclear will tend to have a lesser attachment to renewables, and vice versa. They strongly assert: “Put plainly – if countries want to lower emissions as substantially, rapidly and cost-effectively as possible, they should prioritise support for renewables rather than nuclear power. Pursuit of nuclear strategies risks taking up resources that could be used more effectively and suppressing the uptake of renewable energy.” And end up stressing their belief that their analysis is “the organised skepticism of independent science.” This is something sadly lacking in the Prime Minister’s boosterism for a bit of everything. Mr Johnson holds the top job. He needs to make choices.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

SMRs: too close for comfort!

Letter sent to The Guardian: Your business commentator, Nils Pratley, concludes his evaluation of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) (“Rolls’s mini nuclear plants are appealing- but also I untried,” Finance, 12 November) by suggesting these so-called advanced nuclear technologies (ANTGs) “are an experiment worth exploring.” SMR proponents, such as Dr Mike Middletion, formerly of the defunct Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), have concluded such reactors would only ever be economically competitive if the surplus heat they inevitably create in operation can be used as either industrial process heat, or piped as domestic central heating. (https://www.eti.co.uk/library/etis-strategy-manager-mike-middleton-presented-smrs-in-the-context-of-waste-and-spent-fuel-management ETI's Strategy Manager Mike Middleton presented 'SMRs in the | The ETI The Energy Technologies Institute is a UK based company formed from global industries and the UK government. Delivering affordable, secure and sustainable energy. www.eti.co.uk ) For this to happen, SMRs would have to be built on greenfield sites in, or close to urban populations, or industrial parks near to centres of population. This would reverse the decades- long safety policy of siting nuclear plants far away from concentrated centres of population. Would Mr Pratley be sanguine - as part of the experiment he welcomes - if the first SMR was built next to his home, so he could benefit from its surplus heat?

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Why two-tier nuclear safeguards systems undermines universality of safeguards application

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has made a series of outreach initiatives in recent times. This past week he spoke via video conference to the UN General Assembly on “the Crucial Role of Nuclear Technologies in Fighting Pandemics and Climate.” Part of what he told diplomats in New York was under the headline: ‘Safeguards under the pandemic’, on which he said: “To carry out time sensitive safeguards verification work during the pandemic, the IAEA chartered airplanes to transport inspectors during the period of travel restrictions. This and other measures enabled the IAEA to continue its work inspecting nuclear facilities around the globe– verifying that the use of nuclear material is not diverted from peaceful purposes.” (emphasis added) (“UN General Assembly: IAEA Director General Highlights the Crucial Role of Nuclear Technologies in Fighting Pandemics and Climate Change, “ https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/un-general-assembly-iaea-director-general-highlights-the-crucial-role-of-nuclear-technologies-in-fighting-pandemics-and-climate-change But this week, DG Grossi also made the highly unusual decision to respond personally to several questions on nuclear safeguards and the UK I posed to him during a webinar between DG Grossi and Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency Director-General Dr William D. Magwood 1V on 15 October 2020. In response to my question: If D-G Grossi will make comment on the precedent set by the United Kingdom in establishing its own national nuclear safeguards system; how can the international community verify the validity of the UK self-reporting; and if he will say whether he would be happy for other IAEA member states, for example, Iran to have a similar self-reporting safeguards system? And if not,why not? Dr Grossi said “It is not a precedent for the UK to establish its own national nuclear safeguards system. A bilateral voluntary offer safeguards agreement (VOA) between the Agency and the UK in connection with the NPT was approved by the Board of Governors and signed in June 2018. As the UK is a nuclear-weapon State (NWS) party to the NPT, it is not required like non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS) parties to the NPT to conclude a CSA in connection with Article III of the Treaty. The bilateral VOA, which is not yet in force, will replace the trilateral VOA between the UK, EURATOM and the Agency for the application of safeguards in the UK in connection with the NPT which entered into force on 14 August 1978, as a result of the withdrawal of the UK from the EURATOM Treaty. The content of the bilateral VOA is similar to the trilateral VOA, except that EURATOM is not party to the agreement. Article 7 of the bilateral VOA requires the UK to establish and maintain a national system of accounting for and control of all nuclear material subject to safeguards under this agreement (SSAC). This provision is based on INFCIRC/153 (Corrected) and has been included in the VOAs concluded by the Agency with all nuclear-weapon state (NWS) parties to the NPT, as well as in all Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements (CSA) concluded with non-nuclear weapons state (NNWS) parties to the NPT. In particular Article 7 of the bilateral VOA provides, like in other VOAs and CSAs, that “the Agency shall apply safeguards in accordance with the terms of this agreement in such a manner as to enable the Agency to verify, in ascertaining that nuclear material which is being safeguarded in facilities or parts thereof designated in accordance with Article 76(a) is not withdrawn from civil activities, except as provided for in this agreement, findings of the accounting and control system of the UK. (emphasis added) The Agency’s verification shall include, inter alia, independent measurements and observations conducted by the Agency in accordance with the procedures specified in Part II. The Agency, in its verification, shall take due account of the technical effectiveness of the system of the UK”. In terms, this confirms that the UK- as with other nuclear weapons states- is legally at liberty to weaponise, should it wish to do so, its entire fissile material stockpile ( the UK has circa 160 tonnes of stockpiled separated plutonium at Sellafield I followed up his initial question by asking: Is the DG relaxed about the Agency being a signatory to five so- called voluntary safeguards agreements with the P5 nuclear weapons states that allows each state to withdraw safeguarded fissile i.e. explosive nuclear materials from the scope of IAEA safeguards coverage with a simple notification to the Agency of this intention? What if non-nuclear weapons states were granted this opportunity? DG Grossi responded: “The scope of VOAs is not the same as the scope of CSAs. Under the VOAs the States may exercise the right set forth in the agreements to withdraw nuclear material from safeguards in accordance with the procedures specified for this purpose in the VOAs and Subsidiary Arrangements thereto. Such right does not exist under any CSA which require the application of safeguards to all nuclear material in all peaceful nuclear activities within the State territory, under its jurisdiction or control anywhere.” (emphasis added) This confirmed that a discriminatory two tier-system of voluntary and involuntary ( ie mandatory ) safeguards systems operates The UK Government has stated in official disclosures that it has requested nuclear materials be removed from safeguards on more than 600 occasions since 1978, when the UK “voluntary” safeguards agreement entered into force. (http://www.onr.org.uk/safeguards/index.htm; http://www.onr.org.uk/safeguards/withdrawals.htm) [ The reponse to me came from Ms Francine Lontok, Executive Assistant, Director General’s Office International Atomic Energy Agency | Vienna International Centre, PO Box 100, 1400 Vienna, Austria | Email: f.lontok@iaea.org| T: (+43-1) 2600-21005 www.iaea.org]