MAKE no mistake: nukes are back. The Tory UK Government has decided to build a new generation of nuclear power stations as a key part of its strategy to decarbonise the UK by 2050.

We might call this jumping out of the frying pan into the irradiated fire. Plus, it will cost ordinary electricity consumers a fortune. Also expect Boris and co to be sympathetic to putting at least one new nuclear plant in Scotland, regardless of the wishes of any Scottish Government.

Why this nuclear renaissance? Of course, Labour and Tory administrations have always been wedded to nuclear power. Back in 2006, Tony Blair announced Labour would build a new generation of nuclear stations to avoid rising dependency on gas imports. In January 2008, Gordon Brown re-announced this plan but with the usual Brownian, miserly catch – now there would be no public subsidies to build the new reactors.

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Instead, the government would give the builders of any new nuclear power station a guarantee they could flog its electricity to the consumer at any price high enough to cover the building costs. In other words, the energy companies could spend what they liked with the poor bloody consumer being stuck with the bill.

After that, matters moved swiftly. In early 2009, Britain flogged off most of its nuclear power industry to the French state-owned utility EDF. So Brown’s plan to give nuclear operators the right to charge customers the earth became a bung to the French taxpayer.

When the Tories won the 2010 election, chancellor George Osborne (below) added a twist to Brown’s nuclear plan: a red carpet (literally) was laid out for the Chinese to participate in funding Britain’s new nuclear future.

The National:

In 2013, Osborne jetted off to China to tour its nuclear stations and sign a memorandum of understanding giving Chinese business interests a chance to rook British electricity consumers.

But then matters got a bit sticky – as they always do when nuclear engineering is involved. And they got hideously expensive. The first Franco-Chinese nuclear project was a new, twin unit reactor complex called Hinkley Point C, based at an existing atomic station in Somerset. To get the deal off the ground, the Tories offered EDF and its Chinese backers a guaranteed electricity sales price to the consumer that was double the market price. Ouch!

After that, things got even worse. The Hinkley reactor was a new design that proved fiendishly complicated to build. As a result, the project is billions of pounds over budget. In fact, Hinkley C is likely to prove the most expensive nuclear power station ever built. Meanwhile, the project is running years behind schedule. The current target date for getting both reactors online is June 2027.

Meantime, all but one of Britain’s current eight nuclear stations (which provide up to 20% of electricity) are due to close by the end of this decade. If Hinkley C is furthered delayed, the UK will have an energy gap a mile wide.

The only realistic way of filling such a gap is with more imported gas. However, as we all know, the global demand for gas is skyrocketing, sending the import price into orbit. Wholesale gas prices in Europe have trebled this year. Even in America, with all its fracked gas, the wholesale price has doubled. This has caused a panic in Number 10 – hence the Tory government’s sudden revival of interest in nuclear power. But why the rise in gas prices?

Essentially, the big energy companies have slashed investment in new gas fields. This is because they are uncertain about future regulatory rules governing CO2 emissions and because they are switching to funding renewables.

However, global gas demand is still rising fast as nations switch off burning coal. The result is a perfect market storm that was partially disguised during the recent lockdowns. With global manufacturing cranking up, the demand for imported gas has soared in Asia. Result: gas prices will remain permanently high.

IN fact, gas prices could go even higher in Europe and the UK. There is every likelihood the Americans will start to limit exports of fracked gas and keep it for themselves. That leaves less to go round in the EU and Asia. Britain will get squeezed between the two. Hence the desperation in the British Government to find new energy sources, starting with nuclear power. As a start, it now looks as if Boris will kick the Chinese out of UK nuclear energy projects and substitute Treasury funding instead.

Ejecting Beijing may bring some certainty to cash flow for construction – the Chinese banking system is wobbly to say the least. And it will satisfy Cold War hawks such as the SNP’s Stewart McDonald. But the downside is that building more nuclear stations will take forever. The next project in line, Sizewell C in Suffolk, won’t be ready till 2035 at the earliest. Even then, that won’t fill the gap created by the closure of existing nuclear stations, including Torness in East Lothian.

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Expect a rush of new nuclear projects and attempts to extend the life of stations such as Torness well into the 2030s. EDF, which operates Torness, has always been keen to build another reactor set there. Expect Westminster to try to over-ride any attempted veto by Holyrood.

However, the Tories may have a cunning plan to get more nuclear stations on the cheap, cut out the French as well as the Chinese, and bring jobs to their Red Wall constituencies. This fantasy involves the use of so-called mini-nukes.

Big nuclear plants such as Hinkley C are fiendishly complicated and over-engineered for safety reasons – hence their absurd cost. But it is theoretically possible to build very small nuclear reactors (equivalent to those that power nuclear subs) and string them together in modules, thereby getting the same overall power output as a Torness. Call this nuclear Lego.

Last year, Rolls-Royce – which makes the reactors for Trident submarines – quietly announced it was creating an engineering consortium to build an initial 16 mini-nukes. The project could create upwards of 6000 new jobs, in the Midlands and the north of England, over the next five years – if the Government comes up with the cash.

The National: Minister of State at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Kwasi Kwarteng arrives at 10 Downing Street for a business reception in Westminster, London..

Now it looks as if Kwasi Kwarteng (above), Britain’s super ambitious Business Secretary, has decided to sign the necessary cheques. Expect a nuclear plant down your street, in the near future.

Of course, there are a few wee problems still to be ironed out. Such as the anti-terrorist security. Or where to store dozens if not hundreds of used, irradiated modules – perhaps at Rosyth, along with the Royal Navy’s junked nuclear subs. Surely the Jocks won’t mind looking after England’s nuclear rubbish?

When will we ever learn that there is no nuclear plan that won’t go spectacularly wrong, cost the taxpayer a fortune and end in some unforeseen disaster? The problem with nuclear energy is that the tail-end risk – what happens in the worst-case scenario – is an extinction level threat to life and nature, as in the Chernobyl disaster.

To compensate, we load up safety costs to the point that nuclear power is insanely uneconomic compared to other energy forms. And that is just where Boris is headed.