by Stephen Tall on August 9, 2010
Climate change and energy secretary Chris Huhne was on Radio 4 this morning with what will have been, for many Lib Dems, a surprise announcement: that the Lib Dem / Conservative coalition government is fully behind the opening of a new nuclear power station in eight years’ time.
Arguing in favour of in favour of a mix of more nuclear, oil and gas and renewable energy, Chris declared, “I have no intention of the lights going out on my watch.”
This is something of a change in direction for Liberal Democrat party policy. For example, in the 2010 manifesto the party committed itself to:
Reject a new generation of nuclear power stations; based on the evidence nuclear is a far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than promoting energy conservation and renewable energy.
And Chris has himself been very direct about his opposition to nuclear power in the past – for example, in March 2006 condemning then Prime Minister Tony Blair for backing nuclear energy as part of Britain’s future energy mix:
Nuclear power is a tried, tested and failed energy source with such massive risks and costs that no private investor has been prepared to fund a generating plant since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl without lashings of government subsidy. New nuclear plants would be a costly mistake.”
His previous statements would appear then to leave little wriggle room. However, it’s worth making two points.
First, Chris’s previous comments and the party manifesto do refer explicitly to the costliness of nuclear energy – and he is making it quite clear that there will be no public subsidy for nuclear energy. Any new power stations will be built solely through private investment.
And, secondly, Chris points out that the identified sites for new nuclear power are unlikely to be places where there is local opposition:
There are a number of sites that have been identified around the country and those are generally on sites where we have previously had, for example, nuclear power stations and where the local people are very keen that there should be new nuclear build.”
But, still, Chris’s new-found enthusiasm for nuclear energy sits oddly with the text of the coalition agreement which openly acknowledged the different stances of the two governing partners:
Liberal Democrats have long opposed any new nuclear construction. Conservatives, by contrast, are committed to allowing the replacement of existing nuclear power stations provided they are subject to the normal planning process for major projects (under a new national planning statement) and provided also that they receive no public subsidy.
We have agreed a process that will allow Liberal Democrats to maintain their opposition to nuclear power while permitting the government to bring forward the national planning statement for ratification by Parliament so that new nuclear construction becomes possible.
So, what is the view of Lib Dem Voice readers of this development in the party’s approach to nuclear energy? Here’s the new poll question we’re asking:
- Do you believe Chris Huhne is right to say that nuclear power, alongside oil and gas and renewable sources, should be part of the UK’s energy mix?
And here are your options to answer:
- Yes – nuclear should be part of the mix as long as there is no public subsidy
- Yes – nuclear should be part of the mix even if some public subsidy proves necessary
- No – nuclear power should play no part in the UK’s energy mix.
Feel free to discuss further below …