Today is the day on which the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize for the part it, in its evolving forms, has played in creating the conditions for peace in Europe over the past 60 years.
I think it's well deserved. Mutual trade and prosperity are much better guarantees of long-term peace and security than military strength or being able to repel invasions.
But, as it happens, today also gave us another reason to be grateful that we are part of the EU, which is what I want to focus on in this post.
It appears that the EU Commission is so concerned about the way that the new Pembroke Power Station operates that it has taken the unprecedented step of issuing notices of infringement against the UK government for the damage it is causing to the local marine environment.
It's a sad tale. The problem is that any fuel-based power station is inefficient, producing large quantities of waste heat. Originally, the intention was for the surplus heat to be used for industrial or other processes nearby. But this was always fanciful. It is difficult enough to find a suitable user for surplus heat at the best of times, but with a power station of this size it is for all practical purposes impossible. The rule of thumb for CHP (combined heat and power) generation is to locate small power stations close to where the heat can be used (an industrial estate, for example) because electricity can be transmitted over great distances, but heat can only be piped a few kilometres.
That basic, fundamental rule was simply ignored when this plant was designed. In fact the whole process by which this plant was built would be a farce if it wasn't for the fact that it will cause very severe environmental damage. The planning authority, the UK Department of Energy in this case, and the operators of the plant, RWE nPower, should have known that this plant was far too big for its location. So the first part of the blame rests squarely with them.
However RWE nPower seem to be hiding behind the fact that they were given approval to operate the plant from the Environment Agency.
"We've worked with all of the relevant authorities and the competent authority being the Environment Agency.
"It's not us that determine whether we can do this, it's those guys that do that.
"They've looked at all of our processes, our method statements, worked with the contractors, worked with the actual process designers that build power plants and the complex systems that are within them and they have been completely satisfied, and if they weren't satisfied they would not have issued the permit."
That's true enough, but the EA have proved themselves to be very far from "competant" as an authority. As I noted a couple of years ago in this post, the EA relaxed (by a factor of six in one instance) the emission standards they had previously considered safe in relation to the wood-burning power station proposed for Port Talbot. I think it is obvious that even if there had been an objective, scientific basis for their first decision, they later revised it for the sole reason that it suited the commercial interests of the potential operators. Scientific objectivity came a very poor second to commercial expediency.
It is clear to me that exactly the same thing happened in this case. Instead of refusing RWE nPower an operating permit, the EA simply threw away any semblance of scientific objectivity in order to allow them to get away with whatever suited them ... and what suited them was the financially cheap but environmentally expensive solution of simply pumping the warmed water straight into the Cleddau, a largely enclosed body of water where the heat cannot be dissipated in the same way as it would be if the warm water was pumped out into the open sea. The consequences to marine life in the estuary are disasterous.
Everybody will point the finger at someone else. But the real fault is that the UK government allowed all this to happen. By letting an "arm's length" body make the decision, they clearly hoped to absolve themselves of any blame for the consequences.
In such circumstances the European Union is just about the only body that can hold the UK government to account and insist that either a less damaging cooling system be installed, or limit the production capacity or time that the plant can operate to reduce the overall amount of heat produced. It's one of many reasons why we in Wales should be glad we are part of it.