Rhodes on a doomed trike and a shortage of books

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Clive Sinclair with his C5
Clive Sinclair with his C5

Three little words to watch out for: molten salt reactors. Fuelled by thorium instead of uranium, this new generation of mini nuclear plants is being perfected in China. If we believe the claims, these are clean, green and safe power plants, described by one Chinese scientist as “the world's dream for more than half a century.” You may remember the old promise of cheap, emission-free and abundant nuclear energy, leading to many 1960s headlines forecasting “Electricity that's too cheap to meter.”

Until now, turning that dream into reality has failed. How odd it would be if China, endlessly castigated for its filthy coal-fired power stations, became the nation that delivered the technology that ended global warming and saved the planet.

Increasing Universal Credit by £20 a week was a wise, humane act at a time when the pandemic was devastating the economy. But don't expect any government to offer the same helping hand in a future crisis. That's because at some stage the “temporary” rise in benefit has to be ended. And as the past few weeks have shown, turning off the tap is a nightmare.

Olivier De Schutter, the UN-appointed rapporteur on extreme poverty, is the latest critic to wade into the row. He tells the Government: “It’s unconscionable at this point in time to remove this benefit.” He says we're not out of the crisis yet and it's “too soon” to remove the increase. Crucially, he does not suggest when the benefit might be reduced. The message is clear. “This point in time” will never be the right time.

Whatever he did in the field of computers, the abiding image of the late Clive Sinclair is him sitting forlornly in his curious electric tricycle, the C5. On paper, a single-seat battery-powered conveyance was the emissions-free answer to a nation's transport ills. In real life, people found themselves feeling hideously vulnerable as they rubbed shoulders with the enormous wheels of passing lorries. How strongly did we feel about being clean and green? Not enough to die for.

Publishers report that supply-chain problems, a shortage of warehouses and a dearth of wood pulp are causing a shortage of books. I am delighted to report that many copies of my own book are still available. Many, many copies. Boxfuls of the damn thing. It's called Bloody Adjectives (Brewin Books, £8.95) and it might be wise to order a dozen.

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