New Lib Dem u-turn: Government may subsidise nuclear

Energy secretary Chris Huhne has been told to "stay true to supporters" over nuclear power as plans for new stations come closer, reports Katy Mughan.

The Liberal Democrat energy secretary, Chris Huhne, has been told to “stay true to supporters” over nuclear power as plans for a new generation of stations come one step closer to fruition. Meanwhile, reports suggest that the Government may breach its policy of “no money” for nuclear.

The Guardian has reported this week that, under current government plans, the taxpayer could end up bearing the costs of depositing waste from the new reactors. This is despite Chris Huhne saying as recently as July that there would be “no state subsidies for nuclear”.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the partially state-funded body responsible for cleaning up the UK’s publicly-owned civil nuclear sites, said the disposal costs could be underestimated, leaving the taxpayer to cover any shortfall, while Greenpeace said the economics of nuclear power did not add up and urged the Lib Dems to back renewable energy sources instead – a principle the party has historically been committed to and was assured in their 2010 manifesto.

Jim Footner, head of Greenpeace’s climate and energy campaign, said:

“Lib Dem voters backed a party that supported renewable energy, opposed taxpayer handouts to the nuclear industry and supported democratic engagement in planning.

“They need to stay true to supporters by dropping the costly distraction of nuclear power.”

 This move represents a further policy softening from the Lib Dems, who had already compromised their previous promise to “reject a new generation of nuclear power stations”. The coalition agreement allowed for:

“… the 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.”

The announcement comes at the same time as Mr Huhne halted government funding for the Severn tidal energy project, scrapping the ambitious proposals for a 10-mile hydro-electric dam across the river that could have generated about five per cent of the UK’s electricity using renewable water power. He said a study had found there was “no strategic case” for the scheme.

Last week, two potential sites for new nuclear power stations were removed from the list, leaving the further eight sites near to existing nuclear plants, where it is thought that planning permission will be easier to obtain. The potential sites include Bradwell, Essex; Sizewell, Suffolk; Hartlepool, County Durham; Heysham, Lancashire; Hinkley Point, Somerset; Oldbury, South Gloucestershire; Sellafield, Cumbria; and Wylfa, Anglesey.

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