Energy

Briefing: Fuel poverty

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The end of November saw the release of the government's statistics on winter deaths. Cold weather is a killer in the UK. An estimated 31,100 "excess winter" deaths occurred over the winter of 2012-13, up from 24,000 the previous winter.

Most of these deaths occurred among those aged 75 or older. Excess winter deaths are strongly correlated with the coldest weather months; and the coldest winters have the highest number of winter deaths.

Neither fish nor fowl

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Something surprising happened in September. Ed Miliband managed to dominate the party conference season and even make mainstream politics spark to life for once.

Miliband's decision to respond to the Tories' boast the economic "recovery" vindicates their austerity measures by focusing on what he rightly called the "cost of living crisis" gave some expression to the mood among millions of workers across Britain.

Hot air on energy prices

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Since April 2008 working class living standards in Britain have fallen by an average 13.2 percent. Over the same period domestic energy prices have risen by over 38 percent, while profits of the major UK energy companies have risen to levels only exceeded by the banks.

The official classification of fuel poverty is a household that has to spend at least 10 percent of its income on energy bills. Over 5.5 million households are already in fuel poverty, over half of them either having to make special provisions for winter quarter bill payments or living in fear of disconnection.

Yet in May, when the current Energy Bill was launched, the government cynically calculated that the effect of its new legislation would immediately push a further 400,000 households into fuel poverty through its effect on fuel prices.

Nuclear power failure

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Since its inception, critics of nuclear power have concentrated on the industry's lamentable safety record, its growing and deadly radiological legacy for future generations and its links to military development and maintenance of nuclear weapons.

But the fraud at the heart of the economic case for nuclear power has received less attention. The murky world of nuclear economics reveals how an inherently unreliable and unsafe range of military-born technologies have been sold to the public on the basis of ideologically driven fantasies of strategic energy security and creative accountancy. From the start there has never been any intention to take account in any nuclear energy programme of the calculation, let alone funding, of the long-term decommissioning and waste management costs.

Argentina

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Suzie Wylie looks at the motives behind the Argentinian government's expropriation of one oil company.

The Law of Hydrocarbon Sovereignty passed through the Argentinian National Congress in May with almost complete support across the political spectrum. It formalised the expropriation of the Spanish multinational Repsol's shares in the oil company YPF. It was met with condemnation and the threat of reprisals from the Spanish government and the European Union.

Extreme Energy

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The panic that ensued when tanker drivers threatened to strike recently brought home the absolute centrality of oil to our modern economy.

Oil has been in the news recently, not least because the first few months of 2012 saw some of the highest ever prices for crude. The threat of war on Iran, instability in oil-rich Nigeria and the ongoing economic crisis combined to push prices above $125 a barrel. This is below the record of $147 set in July 2008, but the weakness of the pound and euro means that, in reality, the price is much worse for European consumers.

Japan's nuclear nightmare

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The true extent of the destruction that followed the Japanese earthquake and tsunami is only just being
seen. But it is clear that many thousands of people have lost their lives and billions of pounds worth of damage has been done.

A further casualty of this natural disaster may well be the plans to expand the use of nuclear power. Japan is the third largest user of nuclear power, with over 50 nuclear plants which provide over a third of its electricity. The magnitude 9 earthquake was greater than the plants were designed to withstand - yet such earthquakes could certainly have been foreseen.

Food prices leave many hungry for change

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Global food prices are once again rising sharply. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's monthly index of agricultural commodity prices rocketed upwards by over 30 percent in the last six months of 2010.


Biofuels crop

Prices now surpass the levels seen at the height of the 2007-8 food crisis. Back then it led to over 30 countries being hit by unrest linked to the soaring cost of food, from Haiti to Bangladesh.

Sugar and meat prices are at record levels, while cereal prices are back at the levels of 2008. Last year saw European wheat prices double, US corn prices increase by more than 50 percent and US soybean prices rise by over 30 percent.

Fuel for thought

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As of 15 April, all petrol and diesel sold at British filling stations has to be blended with biofuels.

The British government, through the Renewable Fuel Transport Obligation (RFTO), and the European Union have continued to push ahead with biofuel expansion despite scientific studies which show that this is one of the quickest ways of heating the planet, and despite United Nations (UN) agencies warning that biofuels are fuelling a catastrophic food crisis.

No Need for Nukes

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Hermann Scheer explains why it is time for nuclear power to be relegated to the technology museum.

The end of the fossil energy age approaches. Its ecological limits draw near as material resources are exhausted. The advocates of nuclear energy see a new day dawning. Even some of its critics have joined the appeal for new nuclear power plants. There are now 442 nuclear reactors operating worldwide with a total capacity of 300,000 megawatts. Two and a half times this number will be added by 2030 and four times as many by 2050, says the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the bastion of the global nuclear community.

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