Ingham’s Eye View: There’s gold in them thar reactors, writes Sir Bernard Ingham

David Fletcher says the correspondence pages are one of the best features of this newspaper. I would describe them as among the most helpful and revealing.

They consistently advertise my critics’ abject and often determined ignorance.

But before I deal with their latest nonsense, I must record my gratitude to Nader Fekri for not quite clearing off to Turkey. I care not that he has abandoned the Liberal Democrats for Labour. It is often difficult to tell the difference.

Instead, I am delighted that he is to demonstrate the perniciousness of councillors’ allowances. The council taxpayers of Calderdale do not give him £10,000 to spend it on commuting between Hebden Bridge and Turkey. That is frankly an outrage but councillors’ allowances encourage outrageous behaviour.

We have just learned that some councillors across the country are so devoid of principle that they have taken up to a 28 per cent increase in allowances in this, the fifth year of national financial straits. I leave Fekri to his conscience.

Let us now turn to the aforesaid David Fletcher and, of course, my treasured critic, Barbara Green, of Heptonstall, who gives me a column every time she puts pen to paper.

It is clear that David, a fellow member of the Hardcastle Crags Preservation Committee, has water on the brain.

This is perhaps because he has a built -in reminder, in the form of a water wheel in his Croft Mill, of what made Hebden Royd a manufacturing centre.

I do not dismiss water power but we should keep it in perspective. We cannot now rely on our streams to power a modern economy.

Indeed, the UK unfortunately is at the limits of its hydropower potential for lack of industrial-scale sites.

They have been trying to harness the waves for decades but never seem to boil more than a few kettles. Tidal and ocean currents are other sources but France has never repeated its costly tidal barrage at La Rance in Brittany and the Coalition had ruled out a Severn Barrage on grounds of cost until David Cameron recently showed renewed interest. Consumers and taxpayers beware.

David Fletcher is dead right in saying that barrages (like nuclear) are expensive to install and (unlike nuclear and wind farms) could be built now with British technology. We once led the world in civil nuclear power but successive Governments have presided over the country’s nuclear de-industrialisation.

But David is wrong is saying that nuclear power stations are expensive to run. They are relatively cheap because their fuel represents such a small proportion of total costs unlike fossil fuels.

This brings me to my favourite critic, Mrs Green, who surpassed herself on August 2 in this newspaper with her adoration of Arthur Scargill. She claims that the pocket dictator told Hebden Bridge “some time ago” that “if the mining industry had received the same huge subsidies as the nuclear industry, the miners could have mined the coal, been paid decent wages, taken the toxic elements out of the product and still have enough to give the stuff away.”

As it happens, I have a Parliamentary Answer in 1984 – during Scargill’s catastrophic strike – which shows that the National Coal Board received subsidies from the Government over the 11 years between 1973 and 1984 totalling £2.255bn. What is more, £1.628bn of that was paid out during the Thatcher years.

The problem for both Labour and Tory Governments over that period was not a successful coal mining industry but an increasingly heavily subsidised one.

As is her wont when it suits her, Mrs Green ignores the military origins of civil nuclear power and is only too ready to load military subsidies on to nuclear power stations. She forgets consumers uniquely pay through the price of electricity to meet the costs of nuclear decommissioning and waste management.

Worst of all, she regards nuclear as all cost and no benefit. In fact, it is the sole route to secure and competitive low carbon electricity.

And so far as I can see it does not need a penny in public subsidy as distinct from repayable help to cope with the outlay while nuclear stations are being built and not generating power.

Guess what two 1600MW reactors, as proposed for Hinkley Point in Somerset, could earn over a 50-year lifetime operating at 90 per cent efficiency for an average price of £100/MWh – far cheaper than the real cost of wind.

The answer is £126bn. It puts in perspective the £14bn estimated cost of the reactors and leaves rather a lot for running costs, contingencies and profit.

There’s gold in them thar reactors.