TSR2 – the (not so) little plane that couldn’t



Get any British aviation enthusiast drunk and they’ll inevitably bring up the TSR-2. This you will be told was a “world beating” British plane design of the 60’s that would have put British aviation on the map, if it hadn’t been shot down by its own government.

However in truth, had the TSR-2 programme not been cancelled in 1965, it would have probably crippled the UK aviation industry, becoming the hill on which it would have died on. As one aviation blogger contemplates, the likely outcome, if the programme had continued, would have been an RAF in the 2000’s entirely equipped with US made aircraft, with no indigenous aircraft manufacturing industry left in the UK.

The TSR-2 is merely an example of everything that was wrong with the UK, both in terms of its industry and politics, in the pre-EU days. Given that we’re on the…

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More Cumbria fudge


The Lake district perfect spot….for a nuclear waste dump!

Before breaking up for their summer, the government revealed how it planned to complete its search for a suitable site at which to store the UK’s nuclear waste. They could put it anywhere, under the sink, behind the dresser….under the lake district national park (where they’ve always wanted to put it, but long denied this fact), anywhere really! Needless to say including a line in such a report that specifically mentions a particular site doesn’t exactly give confidence its going to be unbiased.

And the thing is we’ve been here many times before. As I discussed in a previous post, the UK government were so confident about the safety of their nuclear technology that they pushed it into a remote part of Cumbria and well away from London and the country estates of the upper class. And they’d rather keep it all there for the same reason. The trouble with this is that the locals, whose main industry is tourism, kind of don’t want to see a nuclear waste dump built under one of the UK’s favourite national parks.

Various studies have been done before and while they’ve reached many different conclusions about where the best place to site such a facility, generally the consensus would be that Cumbria, while a potential site yes, it won’t be the best option. Other alternatives include parts of Scotland, Wales, the home counties and the Midlands.

Of course while these might be acceptable sites from a geological stand point they are unacceptable from a political point of view, as you’d be upsetting so many marginal seats (as well as the devolved assemblies in Cardiff and Edinburgh who will almost certainly say no) as to guarantee the Tories will never get a majority government again. So really this process is about finding somewhere that is politically acceptable first, then trying to find the evidence to justify this decision.

Its all very reminiscent of the Yucca mountain fiasco in America. Back in the late 80’s the Reagan administration decided to dump America’s nuclear waste under a mountain in the Nevada test site. Why? Because it was a desert in the middle of nowhere in a state populated by hick’s, hillbillies, conspiracy theorists and gambling addicts. It was also so safely republican you could end up in a hole in the desert for just voting democrat. 

Well a couple of decades later, when the time came to follow through on this decision Nevada was now a swing state. And it turned out the locals did actually care and were prepared to kick up stink about the whole thing. At one point the state capital cut of water supplies to the Yucca mountain site. After the 2008 election, with Nevada senator Harry Reid in a key position to potentially block legislation, the whole thing was finally put out of its misery, although it has recently been resurrected by Trump (probably more to get back at Nevada for offending his ego and voting against him than a genuine desire concern about nuclear waste).

So its very easy to see how history could repeat itself. The Tories put their sleuths to work who scour every inch of the country asking where or where will we put this nuclear waste. Then conclude, ah feck it! we’ll just chuck it over the fence from Sealfield. Because, by a remarkable coincidence, its the best site for it. Seriously, scouts honour! The locals will kick up stink of course, hiring their own experts to pick apart the government’s position line by line, but of course they’ll be ignored and railroaded over. So they’ll lie down in front of bulldozers, fight the plan through the courts and elect anti-government politicians (likely Green party or single issue candidates), until eventually its no longer politically convenient to continue. And it gets cancelled, while in the mean time nothing gets done and we’ve wasted 20 years.

As always I do want to see a long term solution to the UK’s nuclear waste issues, but that means finding a solution that’s going to work, not something hastily cobbled together to save the blushes of politicians. Not least because if a facility is pushed through in such circumstances for all the wrong reasons, then its equally likely it will be cancelled at some future date, so the next generation of politicians can save face.

And it is this constant helicopter parenting that is what puts me off nuclear energy. In fact they are starting to transcend helicopter parenting for snow plough parenting. Consider how the government recently announced they were cancelling the Swansea bay tidal barrage on grounds of cost….even though it will cost about a tenth of what Hinkley C is going to cost. Or how we have seen some significant progress recently in wave & tidal energy research, on a shoestring budget, with almost no help from Westminster.

The little spoiled brat nuclear encounters the slightest obstacle and the government bends over backwards, signing blank cheque after blank cheque. They’ll literally move mountains for their little darling. But when anyone else asks from a few penny’s, oh sorry there’s no magic money trees.

Posted in climate change, energy, environment, nuclear, politics, power, renewables, subsidy, sustainability, sustainable, technology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Post-brexit trade delusions: Africa edition


Theresa May is starting to remind me of a 80’s film, weekend at Bernie’s, the plot of which was how two low level employees are stuck with pretending their boss isn’t dead, or else assassins will kill them. Not a great film (it has one joke that wears thin pretty quickly), but an apt metaphor for Theresa May dragging around her Chequers deal, unwilling or able to admit its bleeding demised and joined the choir invisible, because if she does that will be the end of her. But for brexit to work both she and the hard brexiters still have to prove that life outside the single market can bring benefits to the UK. That we’re better off out than in, a question Corbyn refused to answer last week – six times!

PARROT.jpg Theresa May’s Chequer’s deal, its just resting!

So, having realised that the kebab model

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Asgardia, the CubeSat Solar Empire


I’ve discussed before the issues that would arise in terms of establishing any space based settlement, and how that might prove a lot more challenging than those pursuing such colonisation efforts assume.

In short, travelling into space is expensive and dangerous and there are no real silver bullet solutions to get around this problem. Therefore, it will be some time before we build any space colonies. And, given that there’s no proof that humans can survive in conditions of zero (or low) gravity and heightened radiation for extended periods, its likely the crew on these colonies will not be permanent residents. Instead, they’ll likely be rotated back to earth every couple of years. Hence its a bit early to start talking about mass migrations into space or how any sort of space based government would work.

However, a group called Asgardia have recently attempted to do just this. Under the leadership of a self appointed monarch (a Russian Oligarch), they’ve declared a space faring nation with a population of over a hundred thousand…..based out of Vienna (which as I recall is in Austria and not the Hoth system). Well ok, they have sent a small cube sat in orbit, but that hardly counts as a country.

So what’s wrong with this? Well like I said, its going to be a heck of a long time before we’re in a position to even consider sending large number of people into space so its a bit premature to start forming a government. Even Musk is leaving this sort of thing on the back burner until after his BFR rocket crashes and burns is proven to work.

We have to question, do any of these Asgardians have the right skills? As I recall pointing out before, some of Mars One’s best and brightest included a Sushi chef (then again, they have just found water on Mars!) and a bitcoin bug. Hardly the right stuff! Given the enormous costs in moving people into space it would be critical that anyone who goes is suitably fit and healthy (and thus has a decent chance of surviving). And they have to have the skills to justify the expense of sending them. Inevitably the vast majority of us simply won’t make the cut.

Not that many of us would probably actually want to go anyway. The closest analogy to a future space colony here on earth would include north sea oil rigs, or remote mining colonies in the Australian outback or Northern Canada. We’re talking about the most grim little hell holes you’ve ever seen. The sort of places people only go to because some corporate conglomerate is paying them a heck a lot of money to do so. And the only difference with a space colony, is that the conditions there will be that much worse and much more dangerous.

As I recall pointing out before, any future space colony will likely be a kid free zone with no old people either. Putting either of these on a space colony would mean exposing them to unnecessary risks and mean we’d need to include all sorts of resources just to look after them (a larger hospital, schools, bingo hall, etc.). A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And in an emergency (e.g. a fire) any old timers or rugrats are going to be a very weak link, threatening the safety of everyone else on board.

So rather than starting to recruit “citizens” for a space colony now, I’d wait until there’s a need for crew, then take out a few well placed ads on professional recruitment websites. You offer a salary with enough zero’s behind it, you’ll get the right people. Won’t this be more expensive? Well if you’re going to sink tens of billions into a space colony, it stands to reason you pay handsomely to hire the best people for the job.

And its a bit naive to assume any future space colony will be a democratic nation (in the early days anyway), even if we could have people living there permanently…. and at present we can’t. Those paying for the colony (likely a major corporation or a national government) are going to want their say in how things are run. And as its their money on the table, that’s only fair. The people on the colony will be way too busy just pulling their shifts to participate (typical routine in these sort of operations, 6 hrs on, 6 hrs off (or 8 on 8 off in some cases) with no weekends nor holidays!).

And what are they supposed to vote on? They going to elect some David Cameron type to cut down on their living costs (given that everything on a space colony must be imported living costs would be extremely high). Ya how’s that going to work? Is everyone supposed to hold their breath so they can save on air recycling costs? Or maybe we could get everyone to skip a meal a day to save on food production/importation costs. I don’t know, maybe we could have referendum to decide what colour to paint the colony….although that said, given how the colour will impact on its heat transfer properties, its likely that even here the choice will be limited to somewhere between brilliant white to creamy grey.

However if democracy would be a bad idea in space, a monarchy would be worse. A monarchy is only ever as good as its ruler. And while a kingdom can survive a bad king (usually by deposing him), given the risks involved with space flight, one bad decision by one bad king could get everyone on a colony killed. Furthermore, it would be crucial that whoever is in charge is actually on the colony, given the distances involved and the ease with which communications could be interrupted.

A more likely scenario is to adopt the same policy of scientific expeditions. Typically, such operations will be run by a small committee including the heads of each division (engineering, Fido, EECOM, flight surgeon, etc.) which is chaired either by the chief scientist, or a professional project manager. This system ensures informed decisions can be made quickly. However, it amounts to an effective technocracy.

Now granted if we ever could, in the very distant future, grow such colonies to the point where there were large numbers of people (who might well be genetically engineered to survive in said conditions) who were living permanently in space, then this democratic deficit would have to be addressed. However, that’s a conversation to be had at that future date. Presumably some sort of UN level legislation (as this would technically fall under the domain of the UNOOSA) on this matter would be needed to dictate how and when this process would work. And its crucial that the people who decide what form of government will be implimented would be those colonists themselves. Imposing a constitution on them, which includes some foreign born king, would be the very worst of colonialism.

I mean think about it, let’s suppose that after the Boston tea party, the British decided that rather than stirring things up to instead grant the US independence. But they told the Americans that some random rich dude would be their king…..forever….and that a bunch of people in England, who had never even been to the US, would also be citizens too and they’d have enough votes to outvote all of the colonists. Would this have prevented the US war of independence, or just hastened it?

All in all this looks more like a cargo cult of personality to massage the ego of one rich guy (can’t we just give him an Eve online account?). Or, given his links to Putin, to provide the Russians with another means to infiltrate and recruit fifth columnists into the West.

And speaking of which, we have a recent report of a Russian satellite behaving “erratically (probably a spaced based weapon). This is alarming the Americans, who have their own space based weapon system and Trump’s newly set up “space force (which does absolutely nothing, in fact with their cube sat Asgardia has more of a presence in space). So there’s an element of the pot calling the kettle black here.

And speaking of cults, I came across an interesting article from the space scientist Andrew Coates (whose credits include the Cassini mission, Mars Express and Exo-Mars missions) picking holes in Elon Musk’s proposals for Mars colonisation. Now he doesn’t really say anything controversial or anything we don’t already know. But its worth scrolling down to the comments, as inevitably the Musk fan boys are coming out of the wood work, deciding that they, sipping on their kool-aid in Hicksville Idaho, know more about space travel than a respected space scientist.

You just can’t make this stuff up! I’m tempted to start writing a sci-fi novel the theme of which will be two factions, the space faring worshippers of two warring religious sects (each devoted to a long dead billionaire cult leader) fighting for domination of the dwindling resources of a solar system against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic earth.

As I’ve stated before, there are many benefits to space based research. It is something that we should continue. And while space colonisation is an unlikely prospect any time soon, there’s no harm in exploring the possibility. And if billionaires want to spend some of their money on space research, for what ever reason, I don’t have a problem with that.

However, its also important that we’re realistic in our approach. Underestimating the difficulties and the dangers of space exploration will just lead to costly and deadly mistakes.

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Tory towns go bust



One of the things that annoys me about brexit is how its allowed many important issues to sneak under the radar, without any serious debate, e.g. Fracking was quietly approved, without any real parliamentary debate last month, against independent advise to the contrary.

But one big story that has been swept under the carpet is how several towns with Tory run councils are basically going bust. Northamptonshire council for example is in dire straits. In the town of Corby (which incidentally voted overwhelmingly leave) public services are being cut back to the legal minimum. This means things like rural buses services have been cancelled (meaning anyone without a car in a rural location is now cut off from the rest of the country), public libraries are being shut, day care and medical centres are closing down, public parks are at risk from developers, street lights…

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A 2nd EU referendum?



With the UK parliament essentially deadlocked on the topic of brexit, it has meant the idea of a 2nd vote and tossing the decision back to the people, is now a possibility. Polls show this is increasingly seen as the actual “will of the people”. So I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss the matter.

Brexit means….deadlock & chaos

Firstly the issue for Theresa May is that she doesn’t have a majority in parliament to back her plans. There’s about 14 or so pro-EU Tory MP’s who will not vote for anything that they know will mean leaving the customs union. At there other extreme there are 80 MP’s in the hard brexit camp who also won’t vote for anything that leaves the UK tethered to Europe in any way shape or form. She needs the DUP to support her, but once they realise her pandering to…

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Brexit: More or less


177763_600 Brexit greatest enemy? Maths!

Contrary to much expert opinion, it is argued by brexiters of the so called European Research Group that leaving the EU without any deal, a so called “hard brexit“, won’t be so bad. And in any event, it would make sense to play brinkmanship with the EU, to get the best deal. Hence they have argued for example that the UK should start to stockpile food to show we’re serious.

Any sort of delays at the border present massive problems due to the fact most UK factories operate on a Just in Time basis (where as little inventory as possible is kept by the factory, with supplies arriving “just in time”), notably the car industry. However, Brexiter Brenard Jenkin suggested that trucks should just leave several days early and so what if they end up stuck in a queue at Calais (which…

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