Coal, Oil and Nuclear Escalation

  • Leslie Hannah


The British economy had long been built on energy from coal, and even as late as the mid-1950s commentators were convinced that this would remain so for many years to come. The electricity supply industry at first shared this view and, as it happened, it was to prove a more accurate prognosis of its own future source of fuel than it was in other sectors, where the future potential of oil was generally underestimated. There were, of course, postwar shortages and worries about future coal supplies. However, in the few harsh winters of the early 1950s when home coal production seemed likely to be insufficient to maintain electricity supplies, the National Coal Board had been able to provide small quantities of imported coal at a subsidised price. Even if world market prices had been charged for such marginal additions, they would still have been substantially cheaper than oil. The Ridley Committee (which reported on fuel and power resources in 1952) expected the Coal Board to be able to expand coal production in the medium-term to meet the greater part of increasing UK demand for energy at prices which would remain competitive with oil.1 The major criticisms of this view at the time were that the committee had under-estimated the size of the future demand for coal, though experience was to show the contrary. Demand for coal was in fact to be well below their estimate, as oil made more rapid competitive advances in the fuel market than had been expected.


Central Authority Nuclear Power Station Nuclear Station World Market Price Nuclear Programme 
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Notes and References

  1. 2.
    See e.g. Lord Citrine, Two Careers (1967) p. 302.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    M. Gowing, Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy 1945–1952, 2 vols (1974).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    E.g. Lord Citrine in Proceedings of the British Electrical Power Convention 1949, p. 20; Sir John Hacking, lecture at the Institute of Fuel, 24 April 1952.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    For a later, but characteristically enthusiastic response see e.g. Sir Claude Gibb, ‘The Development of Nuclear Energy for Electricity Supply Overseas’, Proceedings of the British Electrical Power Convention 1958.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    G. D. N. Worswick, ‘The British Economy 1950–1959’ in Worswick and Ady (eds) The British Economy in the Nineteen Fifties (Oxford, 1962 ) pp. 39–41, 60.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    H. Thomas, The Suez Affair (1970) p. 32.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    H. Macmillan, Tides of Fortune 1945–1955 (1969) pp. 395–7, 399;Google Scholar
  8. H. Macmillan, Riding the Storm 1956–9 (1971) pp. 9, 188;Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Electricity Council 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie Hannah
    • 1
  1. 1.London School of EconomicsUK

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