AHC - A UK Messmer Plan

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Masked Grizzly, Dec 3, 2018.

  1. Masked Grizzly Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2011
    In real life the French Messmer Plan allowed the country to generate 40% of its electricity in the present day via a huge nuclear power program, whereas the UK currently generates 19% of its electricity from nuclear power while generating most of its electricity from gas and coal plus various renewables (with increasing concerns about the country being unable to support the ongoing trend towards electrification).

    Notwithstanding the OTL Anti-Nuclear movement in the UK and the whole debate over the subject of nuclear power in general, the challenge is to have an ATL UK implement a similar program to OTL France where nuclear power ends up generating around 40% of the country's electricity.
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  2. Lord Malikai [something clever]

    Oct 6, 2008
    France actually generates 70% of its electricity from nuclear power. 40% is the share of total energy consumption. Around half of every country's energy consumption is from heating and transportation, which is usually generated from coal, oil and natural gas. In comparison nuclear power is 19% of the UK's electricity and only 8% of its overall energy consumption.

    Regarding a British Messmer Plan, I think the biggest impediment is that Britain has historically had much more secure sources of oil than France, first through Iran and later from the North Sea. Cutting off Britain from Iranian oil is comparatively simple if you can somehow arrange for Mosaddegh to remain in power in Iran and continue his nationalization of Iranian oil. This will obviously have significant non-oil related butterflies.

    Production of North Sea oil is a bigger problem because it is effectively the British response to the same 1973 oil crisis that drove France to implement the Messmer Plan. I think you would need a political issue to derail production of North Sea oil, but I'm not familiar enough with British internal politics of the 1970s to suggest a solution. An external political solution would be viable but something like a Soviet controlled Norway or a hostile Germany that opposes Britain in the North Sea would also lead to crazy butterflies far beyond Britain's energy production.

    Edit: A few countries like Colombia and Norway use a high percentage of renewable power domestically so they can export as much of their oil as possible. I can see a British Messmer Plan resulting from a similar consideration, but it would be surprising for such a large diverse economy as Britain to try. An independent Scotland might implement such a plan, since it would be much more reliant on oil revenues for income.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2018
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  3. Masked Grizzly Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2011
    Wow 70% from nuclear power alone?

    Could revenues from North Sea Oil be used by a Post-Messmer Plan UK be used to instead help revive deprived areas of the country?
  4. El Pip Well-Known Member

    Jul 7, 2009
    Oil was never that significant in terms of power generation even after the North Sea. What the North Sea did allow was the Dash for Gas, the rushed building of gas power stations so the Coal Mining unions could no longer hold the country to ransom. Nuclear power is no help there, it takes too long to build and by that point the UK 'knows' from past experience that, no matter the theory, nuclear power in practice ends up very expensive to build.

    Britain had an early Messmer type plan, after Calder Hall went operational in 1956 the plan was to build a fleet of Magnox reactors to provide at least 25% of the country's electricity by the mid 60s. The problem was that nuclear power was very expensive, it was admitted as being at least 25% more expensive than coal and was probably actually 50%, so once the fleet was big enough to provide all the plutonium the country needed the government stopped building them. Plus the Labour party had never been that keen on the idea, each nuclear plant cut the need for Coal power plants and so coal mining and so their votes.

    You need a combination of; nuclear power plants being much cheaper and the Labour party either kept out of power or less concerned about coal miners. Both of these are tricky to achieve.

    A much greater need for nuclear weapons / Plutonium would also help. If the UK decides for some reason it needs a lot more nuclear weapons during the Cold War then it becomes strategic to build a larger fleet. Lots of nukes means lots of plutonium, hence building a much larger fleet of nuclear power stations.
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  5. Masked Grizzly Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2011
    The UK matching France in generating 70% of its electricity from nuclear power is way beyond my own vision of an ATL UK generating 40% of electricity from nuclear power via an analogue of the Messmer plan.

    That said, quite like the idea of the UK generating most of its energy from nuclear power and natural gas to nip any OTL concerns about plugging the energy gap or electrification in the bud, along with the notion of the ATL UK (like OTL France) being one of the world's largest net exporters of electricity and an earlier crippling of the Coal Mining unions.

    The question than moves on to the UK adopting more effective renewable alternates to wind, solar and ethanol for other sources of power / electricity supply outside of nuclear and natural gas (say around 15-30%). Envision geothermal, hydroelectric and Cogeneration / Combined Heat & Power aka CHP playing a role in this ATL as well as biofuels from butanol, methanol, biodiesel and biogas.
  6. BigBlueBox Well-Known Member

    Jun 21, 2017
    Southern California
    Who would import energy from the UK? Ireland? France could cover itself and the Low Countries, and Norway has an surplus of hydroelectricity.
  7. Schlock Well-Known Member

    Jul 7, 2018
    The major problems with the UK's reactor building program were twofold:
    1. Was that every reactor was unique, with numerous design variations on each power station
    2. The Magnox gas cooled plants were designed for producing weapons grade fissionables first and power second.
    Building one specific reactor design with no variations and going with the Westinghouse PWR designs from the get go would likely make a big difference in the long run.
  8. Drunkrobot Well-Known Member

    Oct 5, 2014
    Wales, Unfortunately
    Perhaps a Prime Minister that is either inspired by or parallels Gaullism, being able to make palpable huge investments in infrastructure on the basis of maintaining and advancing Britain's position as a strong state. The mining unions might be handled if they could find an export market for coal - maybe India, or China if the Communists lose the civil war and so is more open to the West.
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  9. Lord Malikai [something clever]

    Oct 6, 2008
    If you're only looking to increase electricity generation (not total consumption) to 40%, I think you only need some minor-ish tweak. Nuclear power in the UK peaked at 26% of electricity generation in 1997. If the reactors were as poorly designed and uneconomical as Schlock suggests. It's easy to believe that a more economical reactor design combined with a slightly more pro-nuclear government would do the trick. Running some back of the envelope calculations, it would only cost ~80 billion GDP to build enough nuclear plants to get the UK to 40% nuclear electricity generation right now. Amortized over say 10 years, that's about 1% of government spending per year, which seems not unreasonable if a government were so inclined.
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2018
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  10. PMN1 Member

    Jan 25, 2006
    Walter Paterson's 'Going Critical, An Unofficial History of British Nuclear Power' makes for some disturbing reading on this subject.
  11. Zen9 Well-Known Member

    Nov 18, 2018
    It's a possible path forward.
    I'd agree that a need for a proper 'great power' nuclear arsenal would assist this.
    Such a path suggests a more independent stance, possibly at the cost of conventional forces.
    It also suggests they realise that the 'Moscow Criterion' is a flawed strategy to threaten the USSR.
    A consequence would be the pursuit of the Violet Friend ABM system as well.

    Standardising the design and construction of Gas Cooled Reactors, would cut the cost and simplify the roll out plants. This implies the UK retains it's experienced staff and continues with the technology.
  12. Masked Grizzly Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2011
    Perhaps Ireland at best, honesty not sure regarding other countries especially with France supplying the low countries and others. However maybe the UK if needed be could possibly serve as an additional supplement to France depending on the PODs.

    How early could the Westinghouse PWR designs be adopted by the UK? Would it together with North Sea Gas be able to cripple the coal mining unions or would it have been capable of doing the latter on its own, followed by North Sea Gas laying the finishing blow?

    Was thinking a UK Messmer Plan could either begin with a post-war POD or within the context of a different (butterfly-netted) ATL post-war POD scenario am looking into (beginning with a pre-1900 POD from the Second Industrial Revolution up to a more-solvent post-WW2 UK, which between that time made better domestic infrastructure and military decisions, yet quickly accepting they are no longer an Empire minus the OTL declinism / general malaise).
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  13. Zen9 Well-Known Member

    Nov 18, 2018
    Well within history Keynes told cabinet, they had the choice of scaling back to working with what they had or going to the US for a loan.
    They went for the loan.....

    But considering that the US had shut the UK off from money, cut them out of Manhatten and handed Eastern Europe to Stalin. It wasn't a given that the UK would do this.
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  14. Masked Grizzly Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2011
    Another idea which would have probably helped in both scenarios would be Churchill beating Attlee (for potentially more Marshal Plan aid) as well as the UK accepting (instead of rejecting) LBJ's* offer during the mid-1960s to get involved in Vietnam in return for the US potentially cancelling the debt from the Anglo-American loan (that was not repaid until 2006 in OTL).

    Perhaps in the case of the former, it would have allowed for the UK to adopt Westinghouse PWR designs with an overall more-solvent UK embarking on an earlier analogue of the Messmer Plan?

    *(From an old thread by michael1) - LBJ offered to pay substantially more (certainly at least hundreds of millions of dollars and possibly billions more) than the cost of any British military force and Britain still said no even though this was at a time when Britain was desperate for dollars. The offer was in the form of additional assistance for the £ rather than directly to pay for British troops, but it still potentially involved large sums being transferred to the UK which could then be used as the UK saw fit. It never even got as far as discussing real numbers because the British just said no.
  15. Schlock Well-Known Member

    Jul 7, 2018
    I don't think that there is any chance of the UK avoiding the MAGNOX series reactors, because the main driver for them was the production of weapons grade plutonium, but avoiding the AGR reactors and all of their fuel cladding problems is quite feasible as this is exactly what France did in the sixties. The French had operated a reactor design very similar to MAGNOX as their first generation design and then shifted over to the US derived PWR types in the same time period, so there is no technical reason why the UK couldn't do the same.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2018
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  16. Masked Grizzly Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2011
    In a scenario where the UK initially uses the MAGNOX reactors what is the earliest they can avoid the AGR reactors before shifting over to the US derived PWR types?
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  17. Dunois Franco-British Patriot!

    Jul 4, 2009
    The AGR design is actually not that bad, but the execution was very poor, namely:
    - No series effect as each plant was different.
    - The building consortias were too small. Create one company and this issue is sorted.
    - The scale up from prototype to Dungeness B was done too quickly.

    The performance of the last AGRs built is very good and breaker to breaker runs of 2.5 years are now common.
  18. Simon Thread Killer Extraordinaire

    Sep 20, 2009
    Or perhaps not Westinghouse, Canada have developed an interesting line of pressurised heavy-water reactors culminating in the Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) design. Considering the close relations between the two countries perhaps when the decision is taken to go for Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGR), there were apparently competing proposals, an argument is successfully made to partner with Canada as an insurance policy?

    The problem with only having one company is that you then leave yourself hostage to them in that you have no alternative suppliers. Looking to foreign companies to create competition is possible but politically isn't a viable option. That said there were certainly too many consortia, IIRC three, bidding for nuclear power station contracts of which there was really too little work. This led to the situation of the government spreading the contracts around rather than see any of them withdraw from the industry. To my mind there should ideally have been only two consortiums, that way you get competition which helps hold costs down and finds the best way of doing things without excess capacity.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2018
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  19. Schlock Well-Known Member

    Jul 7, 2018
    France began building their PWR 900 Mw CP series reactors in the early seventies, with the early units taking about seven years to complete, though by the end of the decade the build times were down to about five and half years. By about 1985 the French had something like 34 of them in service and new construction had shifted over to the 1300 Mw P4 series by about 1980.

    As Simon said, the Canadian CANDU series of reactors also became available at around the same time, which were able to use unenriched Uranium as fuel, though as a downside, they used Heavy Water, which meant higher up front startup costs as a tradeoff.
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  20. fasquardon Cosmonaut

    Sep 24, 2012
    I think the real issue with MAGNOX is that the UK tried to commercialize the technology waaaay too soon. In the US, the consensus among the nuclear scientists is that they'd know enough to make a good civilian reactor by the mid 1970s or so... When the USSR and the UK beat the US to building "commercial" reactors, the politicians forced the US down the road of commercial nuclear power, which was financially quite disastrous.

    The Messmer Plan was formulated after 1973, which meant the French could learn from British and American experience as well as their own military and R&D reactors.

    So perhaps the best way to get a UK Messmer plan is to keep the initial UK nuclear power program much smaller - just a few military and R&D reactors to provide plutonium for the bombs and let the boffins play with the tech. Then after the oil crisis, the government decides that all this tinkering needs to be put to useful work, and a serious civilian nuclear program is the order of the day.

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