Saturday, January 12, 2008

British nukes under way

It takes one Greenie mania (Warmism) to cancel out another (nuclear-phobia). Lots of Greenie priorities are in conflict with one another -- such as fluorescent light globes versus mercury phobia -- such as those evil plastic bags versus cutting down trees for paper bags.

The race to a nuclear future began last night, as operators promised the first new power stations within a decade, and French and British companies vied for the contracts. Ministers ended years of uncertainty by declaring that nuclear power was “clean, secure and affordable”, but they declined to put a limit on the number of new stations nor the amount of electricity they could supply, prompting companies to set the battle lines for their share of the 36 billion pounds construction programme.

Boosted by government promises to help fast-track a fresh breed of reactors, Areva, the French energy company, rushed in with a bid to build six plants, with the first operational by the end of 2017. Four would be in partnership with another French company, EDF, and the other two with different partners. British Energy, the UK’s main generator, said it would announce one or two proposals in March. Centrica, the owner of British Gas, voiced an interest in a new plant and the German companies E.On and RWE, which own Powergen and nPower in Britain, are also likely to want to take part.

John Hutton, the Business Secretary, who outlined the plans, said last night that all electricity generated in Britain should be produced without emitting any carbon by the middle of the century. The problems posed by climate change were so grave that the nation needed to eradicate all carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation, he said.

The stations will almost certainly be built on or close to existing nuclear sites, where they have been accepted by local communities. With demand for power high in the South East and around London four sites - Sizewell, Bradwell, Hinkley and Dungeness – have already been identified as prime places for the new stations, with Wylfa in Anglesey, Hartlepool and Heysham next in line. The two Scottish sites at Hunterston and Torness would be obvious candidates but the ruling Scottish National Party in Scotland has threatened to block their development.

All the stations will be built by the private sector but the Government has promised to streamline planning procedures to prevent protesters from delaying them unreasonably, and there will be a standard approved design so that individual local debates can be cut in time. The companies will be expected to pay decommissioning costs and their full share of the costs of managing waste.

Mr Hutton insisted that there would be no subsidies, although he accepted that public funds would have to come forward in “very unlikely circumstances of an emergency at a nuclear plant”. He said: “If there is a catastrophic event then I think that it is right that the Government steps in.” That statement is viewed as a crucial guarantee for investors to ensure that developers will be able to obtain insurance for the industry in future. The Government rejected the argument that a permanent solution to the disposal of nuclear waste should be found before plants were approved.

Existing “interim” storage facilities were adequate until a permanent underground site for the disposal of waste could be identified, Mr Hutton said. That is likely to be under the sea off Cumbria, or in an underground bunker.

The Government did hint at the possibility of tax breaks to allay the huge costs of decommissioning. Yesterday’s White Paper said that the Treasury “was exploring action to ensure a level fiscal playing field between nuclear power and other forms of electricity generation”.

Luc Oursel, the chief executive of Areva, said that his company was already in talks with 11 European utilities, including Centrica and British Energy, about building the new plants that would generate 15 per cent of Britain’s electrical capacity. “Our ambition is to build at least four, probably six, in the UK - the first by 2017 – and to provide these utilities with all the services and fuel necessary for their operations,” Mr Oursel said.

The Royal Society called the announcement “an ambitious package, which should provide the means of meeting our energy needs, but much remains to be done to meet our greenhouse gas emission objectives. The Government has given a strong signal on key elements of the required energy mix such as nuclear power and the development of existing and new renewables.”

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said: “New reactors are not the answer to UK energy problems and will do little to tackle climate change. We could meet our energy requirements by investing in cleaner, safer solutions such as renewables, combined heat and power, energy efficiency and the more efficient use of fossil fuels.”


Just to show you we can do it

Habitual criminal deported to the Philippines

A young man has been deported to the Philippines, a country he left as a four-year-old, for breaching an antisocial behaviour order. John Garcia, 20, is faced with building a new life in a country where he has no close relatives and does not speak a word of the language. He is thought to be the first person to have been removed from Britain for failing to abide by the terms of his Asbo.

Mr Garcia came to Anglesey as a boy to join his Filipino mother, went to school on the island and only speaks English and some Welsh. But he never applied for UK citizenship and because of that omission has been sent back to his birthplace after drifting into a life of petty crime. Refugee groups accused the Home Office of taking extreme action against Mr Garcia, who is threatening to bring a case against the Government under human rights legislation.

His mother, Rosanna Glover, was not married to his American father. She married a Briton and moved to Beaumaris, Anglesey, where her husband was a publican.

Friends said Mr Garcia - known to them as JR - had been known to the police for some years, but went badly off the rails two years ago when his stepfather died. He has convictions for burglary, theft and possession of drugs. After completing a sentence in a young offenders' institution for breaching an Asbo, he was picked up and sent to an immigration detention centre.

Proceedings to remove him were launched by the Border and Immigration Agency and, after two unsuccessful appeals, he finally lost his battle against deportation. He is understood to have been judged to present a medium risk to the public and a high risk of reoffending. He was flown out of the country at the weekend after bidding an emotional farewell to his mother. Before leaving, he told a Welsh newspaper his treatment was "cruel and inhumane". He said: "I know no one [in the Philippines], have no money or job and nowhere to stay. It's wrong and unjust but no one will help me."

His treatment has divided opinion in Anglesey. Hefin Thomas, a local councillor, said. "For whatever reason, he's just kept on offending and a lot of people will say it is about time something was done."

The Home Office refused to comment on the deportation. But a spokesman said: "Foreign nationals are expected to obey the laws of this country in the same way as everybody else. If they do not, they can expect to face prosecution and removal from Britain."


British Blogger Pursued by Police for Criticizing Muslim Drug Pushers

We read:

"Islamist rule over the UK may, alarmingly, be on its way. Today, the British police want to question and/or arrest the British blogger known as Lionheart. His crime? Turning his life around as a young school dropout and petty drug dealer and emerging as a believing Christian who opposes the drug plague in his hometown of Luton and who views the Pakistani Islamist and al-Qaeda control of the drug trade in Luton as both criminally and politically dangerous. For this, Lionheart has been charged with “stirring up racial hatred”—which is a crime in the UK.

He writes about the massive number of Pakistani Muslim drug dealers in his hometown of Luton who addict British youth and whose profits fuel expensive lifestyles, paramilitary organizations, suicide terrorism, and religious hate speech against Jews, Christians, and the West. Ironically, what is said in mosques and madrassas and on protest marches all over the UK is never considered to constitute a “racially” motivated hate crime. As George Orwell understood, not all pigs are equal.

Paul-the-Lionhearted began a blog. He described what had happened to him and what he saw happening on the streets of his hometown. Someone unknown decided that Paul’s denunciation of Al-Qaeda and terrorism constituted “hate speech.” Perhaps Paul’s Christianity offended both Muslims and the politically correct oligarchy that rules the media, the universities, and perhaps the House of Lords in Britain.


More commentary here (Site a bit slow to load)

Britain's failing government schools

More than half a million children are being taught in failing secondary schools that risk closure by the Government. New GCSE league tables published today indicate that 639 of Britain's 3,000 state secondaries have failed to meet the Government's minimum target for 30 per cent of pupils achieving five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths. Last year, the Prime Minister vowed to shut down or take over schools that did not reach that level within five years.

Overall, the tables show that the rate of progress in improving GCSE results has almost ground to a halt. Fewer than half of pupils (just 46 per cent) last year achieved five GCSEs at grades A* to C, up just 0.7 percentage points on the previous year. Selective grammar schools continued to dominate the league tables, with the state Colchester Royal Grammar School in Essex, at the top.

Yesterday Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said that there would be no let-up in the pressure on low-performing schools, adding that 170 of the 639 were just a few percentage points from meeting the target. "We owe it to parents to make sure low-performing schools turn around quickly. I share parents' impatience for improvement not just in low-achieving schools, but in all schools," he said. He added that the Government would investigate whether to close the worst-performing schools or to "federate" them with neighbouring higher performing schools. Alternatively it could turn them into academies [charter schools] that are independently sponsored and run. But, while results for academies [charter schools] are generally improving, today's results show that 17 of the 40 academies reporting GCSE results were found in the league table of the worst 200 state schools in England.

Michael Gove, the Shadow Children's Secretary, said that the number of pupils at the bottom end of Britain's long tail of underachievement was growing. The number of children not even passing five GCSEs with grade G, including English and maths, is now at 90,000, up 5,000 on last year. Almost 130,000 children are not getting even a single grade C at GCSE. "Until we slash pointless bureaucracy, give teachers real powers to enforce discipline, and focus on the basics, we will fail another generation of our most disadvantaged children," Mr Gove said. [He's got that right! But don't wait for it to happen]

The tables also indicate that the number of immigrant children in GCSE classes who were unable to speak English has risen by 50 per cent over two years to 2,000. While this is a small proportion of the 600,000 or so pupils eligible for GCSE examination in England, teachers' leaders gave warning that the influx was creating "huge turbulence" and disrupting classes. This would suggest a total of 20,000 non-English-speakers if extrapolated to the whole school system.

In science, the league tables show that only half of teenagers in England are reaching the required standard. A new measure, showing the percentage of pupils achieving at least two passes in science at GCSE, was introduced for the first time this year. The results reveal that, nationally, only half of students (50.3 per cent) achieved two grade passes (A* to C) in science. These findings underscore concerns raised recently by employers and universities about the long-term fall-off in numbers studying science at A level and then undergraduate level. Hilary Leevers, assistant director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, described the results as disappointing, but said that the new measure would help to track progress.

However, independent schools have fiercely criticised it, because it effectively places subjects such as physics, biology and chemistry on a par with options described by some as "pub subjects", such as environmental and land-based science.


Homosexual men are as bad at navigating as women

This rather tends to support the theory that homosexuality is caused by a hormonal disturbance in utero -- with homosexuals being exposed to excess female hormones, with an effect on brain development

Gay men are as bad as women at navigating, research has shown. Both share the same poor sense of direction and rely on local landmarks to get around, a study suggests. They are also slower to take in spatial information than heterosexual men. How this relates to parking a car - a task women famously struggle with, according to the stereotype - is open to question. But researchers say it is likely to make driving in a strange environment more challenging for gay men and women than for straight male motorists.

Psychologists at Queen Mary, University of London, conducted computer-based tests of spatial learning and memory on 140 volunteers recruited through advertisements in newspapers and magazines. They showed that gay men, straight women and lesbians navigated in much the same way and shared the same weaknesses. But there were also differences between gay and heterosexual men and straight and lesbian women.

Previous research had already shown that the male myth of women being poor navigators has some bearing on reality. Men consistently outperform women on tasks requiring navigation and discovering hidden objects. Women, on the other hand, are more successful in tests requiring them to remember where objects lie.

The Queen Mary team, led by Dr Qazi Rahman, used virtual reality simulations of two common tests of spatial learning and memory developed at Yale University. In one, the Morris Water Maze (MWM) test, volunteers were placed in a "virtual pool" and had to "swim" through a maze to find a hidden submerged platform. Cues in the form of pictures, doorways, a lamp, a bookcase and other landmarks were sited in different places. The other task, the Radial Arm Maze test (RAM), involved finding "rewards" - musical tones - by exploring eight "arms" radiating out from a circular central junction. Four arms contained a reward and four did not, and participants had to avoid traversing an arm more than once.

During the MWM test, gay men and straight women took significantly longer to find the hidden platform than straight men and lesbians. But the performance of gay and straight men did not differ in the RAM test. They also behaved the same way in the water maze test once the rough location of the platform had been established. Gay and straight men both spent more time in the area searching for the platform than straight women and lesbians. "Not only did straight men get started on the MWM test more quickly than gay men and the two female groups, they also maintained that advantage throughout the test," said Dr Rahman. "This might mean that sexual orientation affects the speed at which you acquire spatial information, but not necessarily your eventual memory for that spatial information."

The findings were published today in the journal Hippocampus. Dr Rahman was not convinced they related to car parking or map reading, but expected them to have a major bearing on navigational ability. "Perhaps if women are slower at parking it might be relevant, but parking is not an exacting spatial task," he said. "Driving in a novel environment which is poor in cues is where these differences are likely to show up most. Women are going to take a lot longer to reach their destination, making more errors, taking wrong turns etc. They need more rich local landmarks. "Men are good at using distal, or geometrical cues, to decide if they're going north or south, for instance. They have a better basic sense of direction, but they can use local land marks as well."

The similar way gay and straight men performed in the RAM test showed that sexual variation in spatial ability was not straightforward, said Dr Rahman. "Gay people appear to show a 'mosaic' of performance, parts of which are male-like and other parts of which are female-like," he added.


NHS patients told to treat themselves

Millions of people with arthritis, asthma and even heart failure will be urged to treat themselves as part of a Government plan to save billions of pounds from the NHS budget. Instead of going to hospital or consulting a doctor, patients will be encouraged to carry out "self care" as the Department of Health (DoH) tries to meet Treasury targets to curb spending. The guidelines could mean people with chronic conditions:

* Monitoring their own heart activity, blood pressure and lung capacity using equipment installed in the home

* Reporting medical information to doctors remotely by telephone or computer

* Administering their own drugs and other treatment to "manage pain" and assessing the significance of changes in their condition

* Using relaxation techniques to relieve stress and avoid "panic" visits to emergency wards.

Gordon Brown hinted at the new policy in a message to NHS staff yesterday, promising a service that "gives all of those with long-term or chronic conditions the choice of greater support, information and advice, allowing them to play a far more active role in managing their own condition". The Prime Minister claimed the self-care agenda was about increasing patient choice and "personalised" services. But an internal Government document seen by The Daily Telegraph makes clear that the policy is a money-saving measure, a key plank of DoH plans to cut costs.

Critics claimed the plan would provide doctors with an excuse for ignoring the elderly or those with debilitating, but not life-threatening long-term conditions, and would not work without significant investment in community health services. The Arthritis Research Campaign said it risked providing health managers with "an excuse for neglecting elderly patients". Jane Tadman, a spokesman for the charity, said: "Arthritis is already too low down the priority list and the fact that this is being mooted as a money-saving measure is very worrying. "Some GPs don't take arthritis seriously enough, and the result of this could be to give them another excuse to tell arthritis patients just to go away and take their tablets."

The Patients' Association welcomed more moves to empower patients, but warned against using self-care systems to save money. "We are all for better-informed patients," said Katherine Murphy, a spokesman. "But it is a concern that financial pressures will take precedence over clinical needs."

Peter Weissberg, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: "People affected by heart disease need specialist care. Whilst we support changes that empower people to look after their own health, we would be very concerned if they led to any reduction in the availability or quality of expert care for those who need it."

After years of record spending, the health service is facing a sharp slow-down as Mr Brown tries to curb soaring government borrowing. In the Comprehensive Spending Review last year, it was announced that the health budget will grow by four per cent a year over the next three years, down from the seven per cent annual growth rate between 2002 and 2007.

The Treasury also demanded that the DoH achieves three per cent "efficiency savings" over the next three years, equivalent to o8.2 billion. The department's "Value for Money Delivery Agreement" - an internal document drawn up with the Treasury and circulated to NHS trusts over the Christmas holiday - sets out how the NHS will meet the savings target. In a section on chronic conditions, it says the key to greater efficiency in the management of patients with long-term illnesses is a reduction in the need for "expensive" interventions by the NHS. "Reductions in the use of NHS (GP consultations, outpatient appointments, inpatient admissions, length of stay, emergency care and prescribing) can be achieved through increased support for self care (for example through education and skills training, information prescriptions, or self care devices)," it says.

The DoH has told the Treasury that NHS officials are drawing up "good practice guidance on care planning including support for self care". The advice is expected to be published next month. The emphasis on self care was inspired by the success of the Expert Patients Programme, an NHS pilot scheme that offers a six-week training course for people with chronic or long-term conditions. About 30,000 people have completed the course and reduced their hospital attendances by up to 16 per cent, a result NHS managers hope to repeat across the service.

Health budgets face pressure from the cost of caring for people with chronic conditions, including 8.5 million with arthritis, 3.4 million with asthma, 1.5 million diabetics and 500,000 with heart failure. Opposition politicians questioned whether the Government could save money without reducing services. But an Asthma UK spokesman said: "Our focus is on the clinical benefits of self-management. "If the Government implements procedures to ensure more self management and save money, we would support that."


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