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Nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water

Written by Maria Julia Pieraccioni, senior associate 
Edited by Scott Reid, associate partner
15 February 2022

Good morning,

A common quip of the nuclear energy discourse, ‘nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water’ has often been misattributed to world-renowned physicist Albert Einstein. And while the dictum’s true origins may never be verified, some sources have traced it back to author Karl Grossman’s 1980 book Cover Up: What You are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power (page 155, to be precise). Looking at Grossman’s literary body of work, which includes The Poison Conspiracy, Power Crazy: is LILCO Turning Shoreham into America’s Chernobyl? and The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet, you can see where his mind was at.
 
And it seems that nuclear physicists have just thrown Grossman a fresh morsel to chew over: last Wednesday, researchers of the Joint European Torus (JET) at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, made a breakthrough discovery.
 
Scientists set a new record for the amount of energy released in a sustained fusion reaction, generating 59 megajoules of heat, equivalent to about 14kg of TNT and ten times hotter than the sun. The five-second burst of fusion more than doubled the previous record set in 1997 by the same facility and follows more than two decades of tests at the Centre. Professor Ian Chapman, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, regarded the feat as a “major milestone” towards making fusion a more viable and sustainable low-carbon energy source.
 
The JET programme is as exciting as they come, as countries everywhere look for alternative solutions to fossil fuels: its design means that more energy from fusion has been produced than was needed to generate it. The next step of the JET programme is to replicate it at large-scale at Iter, a large fusion project being built in the South of France, which is scheduled to start producing nuclear fusion in 2035.
 
Numerous private sector companies, including UK-based Tokamak Energy, Tri Alpha Energy and First Light Fusion, are also investing in ways to make nuclear fusion practically useful. The aim is to create a market for fusion-produced energy, one that is commercially viable, competitive and globally deployable.
 
However, nuclear power of any kind has been controversial for decades, even before the current climate crisis intensified the search for alternative energy sources. The disasters at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011 are often used as arguments against the use of nuclear energy, evidencing the dangers of what happens when something goes wrong at a power plant.
 
The truth is that when something goes wrong with nuclear, it goes dramatically wrong. However, what’s the cost of pessimism? Can we really afford to shelve nuclear energy when humanity’s is facing off against an energy security crisis, a climate crisis and a cost of living crisis? Between geopolitical angst holding a chokehold over European energy supply and reliance on fossil fuels underwriting the economic performance of rapidly developing countries, the search and execution of alternative forms of energy must speed up or broaden its horizons.

News

Boris Johnson has said there is ‘still time’ for Russia to ‘step back’ from mounting tensions along the Russo-Ukrainian border and continue in diplomatic talks. The prime minister’s statement comes after foreign secretary Liz Truss said the latest intelligence from Russia suggested it could “invade at any moment”. Yesterday, a Cobra meeting discussed the UK’s response if the situation escalates further.
 
Mauritius is reclaiming ownership of the Chagos archipelago from the United Kingdom, after raising its flag above the atoll of Peros Banhos. The symbolic gesture was backed by the Mauritian prime minister, Pravind Jugnauth, and the Mauritian ambassador to the UN, Jagdish Koonjul, who stated the country’s sovereignty over the disputed territory in two distinct speeches.
 
Christine Lagarde may become France’s next prime minister, if current president Emmanuel Macron wins the presidential race in April. Sources close to the Élysée Palace say that Macron has been wooing the head of the European Central Bank for some time now, in an effort to put further distance between himself and the Republican candidate, Valérie Pécresse, in the race. (£)

Business and economy

The Financial Conduct Authority has urged companies providing ‘buy now, pay later’ services to redraft the terms of their engagement with customers, as concerns grow over being able to protect vulnerable customers. Regulatory concern over the schemes have been mounting as the market grew to nearly £3bn in 2020, while many customers were left with staggering debt. (£)
 
Activist investor Bluebell Capital has urged mining conglomerate Glencore to spin off its thermal coal business to focus on renewable energy. In a letter to Glencore, Bluebell said the fossil fuel extraction was “preventing investment” and that the company must align with other players in the industry, such as Rio Tinto and Anglo American, in spinning off the business.
 
JD Sports and Footasylum, two of the UK’s largest sportwear retailers, have been fined £4.7m by the Competition and Markets Authority for improperly exchanging commercially sensitive information while they were attempting to merge. The CEOs of the two high-street companies were filmed meeting secretly in a car park in July 2021, which prompted an investigation by the competition watchdog.

Columns of note

In this week’s Guardian, Andy Beckett asks how the cost-of-living crisis will affect the UK’s socio-political make-up and how it might threaten the government’s current hold on its electorate. Beckett suggests that it’s no coincidence that British consumerism’s best years were also years of relative political calm. He also purports that there’s a direct link between economic stability and political calm. The rise of populism in the late 2000s did not coincidentally begin to take hold when the rise in wages started to stall; instead, it was a direct consequence. Beckett concludes that it’s a tale as old as time: “once people feel life is getting too expensive, they often believe everything is getting worse. If enough people feel like that, governments don’t last long.”
 
Meanwhile, in the Financial Times, Elizabeth Braw looks at the drawbacks of privatised modern warfare, often fought in the tech field and supplied by the biggest global IT corporations. Braw calls this type of proxy war between states “greyzone aggression”. Less bloody and more targeted, greyzone aggression is a state’s use of cyber-attacks, intellectual property theft, and stealthy acquisitions of companies developing sensitive technologies to draw blood from its opponent without actually drawing blood. However, everything has a cost, so, she asks, what’s the catch-22? Apparently, according to Braw’s research, over half of private tech companies are worried about government-led retaliation against them in international diplomatic disputes, with some facing ranging levels of threat—from tech to personal. (£)

Markets

What happened yesterday?

Markets worldwide felt the heat of growing tensions on the Russo-Ukrainian border, rattled by slumped travel stocks and skyrocketing oil prices. Geopolitical angst put downward pressure on the FTSE 100, which ended the day down 1.69%, and on the FTSE 250, which lost 1.95% from the day prior. Sterling ended the day in a mixed state, trading 0.33% weaker against the dollar at $1.35, but 0.13% stronger against the euro at €1.19.
 
On the continent, the pan-European Stoxx 600 index was down 1.83%, pulled down despite Moscow announcing mid-morning that it was ready to continue diplomatic talks. Germany’s DAX lost 2.02% by the day’s end, with France’s CAC 40 following suit, losing 2.27%. Meanwhile, oil prices hit their highest levels in more than seven years, as analysts looked to the possibility of European sanctions on Russia disrupting energy exports. Brent crude was up more than $1 to above $95 a barrel.

What’s happening today?

AGM
Dewhurst        
Nexus Infrastr.
 
Final Dividend Payment Date
Euromoney    
 
Final Results
Plus500          
Glencore        
Rm     
 
Quarterly Dividend Payment Date
Marsh&mclennan   

Intl Economic Announcement
(13:30) Producer Price Index (US)
(07:00) Consumer Price Index (GER)
(10:00) ZEW Survey (GER) – Economic Sentiment
(10:00) GDP (Preliminary) (EU)
(10:00) Balance of Trade (EU)
(10:00) ZEW Survey (GER) – Current Situation
(10:00) ZEW Survey (EU) – Economic Sentiment
(07:00) Wholesale Price Index (GER)
(00:00) Wholesale Price Index (GER)
 
UK Economic Announcement
(07:00) Claimant Count Rate
(07:00) Unemployment Rate

Source: Financial Times

did you know

For three months in 1530, Michelangelo was in hiding from the Pope in a room under the Medici Chapel of the Basilica di San Lorenzo. He covered the walls in graffiti which were not discovered until 1976. (source: @qikipedia)

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

The House of Commons is in recess and will next sit on 21 February 2022.

House of Lords 

The House of Lords is in recess and will next sit on 21 February 2022.

Scottish parliament 

The Scottish parliament is in recess and will next sit on 20 February 2022.

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