Monkey see, monkey do

When it comes to gas, we’ve got an awful lot in common here in the UK with the chaps over there in the land of the red, white and blue.

“If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.” — Zen proverb

When it comes to gas, we’ve got an awful lot in common here in the UK with the chaps over there in the land of the red, white and blue.

Last month, for example, saw Andrew Liveris, president and chief executive officer of The Dow Chemical Company arrive in Washington, DC to air his views on the impact of high and volatile natural gas prices on the US‘s energy consumers, particularly the chemical industry.

Representing Dow and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Liveris urged the US government action to address “one of the worst energy crises in American history.”

Liveris said that over the past six years the price of US natural gas had risen to record high levels – and become uncompetitive with the rest of the world.

“These high prices are felt acutely by all manufacturers, particularly the chemical industry, which relies on natural gas both to power our plants and as a raw material to make our products,” he said.

Because of the high prices, Dow has been forced to take aggressive action: it has improved its energy efficiency, raised product prices, shut down inefficient plants in the US and shifted some production overseas to regions of the world where energy prices are lower.

Sound familiar? Well, it should. Because over here in the UK, Tom Crotty, the CEO of Ineos Chlor aired some pretty similar views in the same month.

“With prices this high, UK industry, and in particular those companies that use large amounts of energy in their processes, is put at a huge competitive disadvantage making it impossible to make products economically. Companies are now faced with a clear-cut decision – whether to produce or not,” he said.

So what’s to be done about all this then? Well, obviously, the future would be brighter if the future were nuclear. And more cost effective too!

And that’s not just yours truly saying that either! No siree. Last year, an exhaustive study by the somewhat more cranially-endowed folks at the University of Chicago also showed that the future cost associated with nuclear power production is now comparable with both gas and coal-based energy generation.

Thank goodness then, that this last February, we had the sense to join up with the good folks in the US as well as some other chaps from Canada, France, and Japan to sign the first multilateral agreement aimed at the development of next generation nuclear energy systems.

So when will these exciting new technologies like the Molten Salt Reactor, the Supercritical Water Reactor or the Very High Temperature Reactor be making their way to a site in the UK to replace an existing decommissioned nuclear liability?

Well, unfortunately we’ll have to wait until next summer to find out. That’s the date when UK Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks will publish a ‘policy statement’ on energy and the role that nuclear has to play.

But why wait? Since the chaps in the US have already laid much of the new nuclear groundwork for us, why don’t we just follow suit? After all, we’ve followed them to hell and back before.

Dave Wilson