From my decidedly pro-nuclear perspective, I find it difficult to discern any negatives in the news that EDF, the French state electricity company, is taking over British Energy, owner of eight civil nuclear sites around the UK.
What it means is that we now have a serious player with deep pockets and a clear intention of using several of these sites to deliver new-builds in this country.
And since I firmly believe that we need nuclear new-build in order to meet the three imperatives of energy policy – security of supply, affordability and carbon reduction – where is the downside in any of that?
I use the term, “in this country”, advisedly since we are all citizens of the United Kingdom and electricity is traded on a GB-wide basis. That is another reason why the SNP’s posturing on this and other aspects of energy policy is so fatuous.
In future, Scotland will get English (and probably French)-generated nuclear power even if we are foolish enough to run down our own capacity – just as Scotland’s renewables targets depend entirely on there being an English market that doesn’t choose to look elsewhere.
There has been much huffing and puffing about the family plutonium being sold off to Johnny Foreigner.
Well, I would undoubtedly prefer the new British Energy to be a state-owned UK company than a state-owned French one.
But that particular Rubicon was crossed in the early-1990s when the decision was taken to privatise the nuclear industry – with no guarantees of where ownership would eventually reside.
And there is not the slightest evidence that the industry has not been run safely or responsibly in the intervening period. The problem has been that an industry that was geared to generating output in a monopoly, state-run environment found itself exposed to market conditions.
The real lesson of what happened to British Energy is that no responsible Government should allow short-term market conditions to dictate our energy mix.
The only reason why the current Government has a stake in British Energy to sell – and, indeed, why the question of takeover arises – is that the company got into terrible trouble in the early part of this decade and had to be baled out.
It is an episode from which I still bear the scars, as I was energy minister at the time and fought an intensive battle to save British Energy when some of my erstwhile colleagues saw an opportunity to kill it off once and for all.
It is instructive and deeply ironic, given current circumstances, to recall why Government had to intervene to save British Energy.
At that time, electricity was unsustainably cheap because the market was heavily oversupplied.
While every other form of generation could survive and, in the case of coal-fired stations, simply switch off until prices revived, nuclear had – for very good reasons – irreducible fixed costs.
So this extremely short-term and utterly unsustainable market phenomenon meant that British Energy could only survive through Government intervention.
Yet, just a few months later, electricity prices were on the rise and British Energy would have been fine.
However, the taxpayer has been picking up a £2billion a year tab ever since for liabilities that were transferred as part of the deal.