Chris Huhne writes… Myth-busting: what the Coalition’s plans for nuclear energy really mean

Which of these headlines is right?

Lib Dem U-turn on nuclear energy sees Huhne announce eight new power stations‘ (Independent)

‘Taxpayer to underwrite expansion of nuclear power’ (The Times)

Subsidy for eight nuclear reactors rejected‘ (Financial Times)

All appeared in the papers on Tuesday 19 October, the day after I announced the latest steps in the government’s approach to nuclear energy. They’re a good example of how confused journalists can get – only the FT’s got it right. So let me make it plain: there has been no change whatsoever in the coalition’s policy of allowing new nuclear stations to go ahead as long as they can be built without public subsidy.

What we’ve done is to publish four key sets of documents:

First, the energy national policy statements, which are part of the new planning process, setting out the policy framework for decisions on nationally significant infrastructure. They create the need, in planning terms, for energy infrastructure to be built, thereby avoiding holding public enquiries on each individual project. The overarching energy statement estimates that about 60GW of new electricity generation will be needed by 2025, largely to replace existing power stations. It sets the aim of ensuring that just over half (33GW) is renewables, and as much as possible of the remainder is low-carbon: nuclear or fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage. The nuclear national policy statement limits the sites where new nuclear stations can be built to eight locations, all with existing nuclear stations.

Second, the ‘regulatory justification‘ required under EU legislation whenever there is a possible of exposing the population to radiation. The government is required to examine new nuclear reactor designs and decide whether the possibility of exposure to radiation is justified by the benefits, in terms of, for example, energy security and low-carbon generation. We have decided that it is.

Third, the regulatory framework for ensuring that operators of new nuclear stations put aside enough money when the stations are operating to pay for the full future costs of decommissioning and waste disposal. There’s more detail to come on this topic later this year.

Together, once completed, these regulatory steps will make it possible for new nuclear stations to be constructed, but whether they are actually built will be up to the energy companies concerned; as I said, the coalition programme is clear that no public subsidy will be provided. The final document to be published was therefore a definition of what the government means by ‘no public subsidy‘. To summarise, it means that no levy, direct payment or market support will be provided for electricity from nuclear power stations unless similar support is provided more widely for other types of generation – for example, any arrangements to raise the price of carbon fuels, or reform of the electricity market to promote low-carbon generation.

I hope that makes our position clear. We Liberal Democrats fought the election on a platform of opposition to new nuclear stations, because we believed that they were not economic to build. During the coalition negotiations we accepted the Conservative view that we should not place unnecessary obstacles in the way of new nuclear; but we held firmly to our position that they must not receive public subsidy. Everything I announced last Monday holds to that line.

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  • Here’s what it said in the mainfesto:

    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.

    So, let me see which of the headlines is right?

    The Independent:
    Seems OK to me. I notice they call them power stations, but you call them nuclear stations. Is that what they got wrong?

    The Times
    If one the owners of these new ‘nuclear stations’ goes bust because of a major nuclear incident at the plant, and it’s not viable for any other company to take it over, wouldn’t the taxpayer be underwriting that risk? Or will you be ensuring the new owners lodge a huge security with the government, as part of the deal?

    Financial Times
    I wasn’t aware that the LibDems or Tories had proposed a subsidy for nuclear power in their manifestos.

    In summary, I’d say the The Independent and The Times got it right. The FT got it wrong because neither party propsosed a subsidy.

    Am I right?

  • By the way, how’s it going with other manifesto commitments for the environment?

    Insulating all homes to a good standard within 10 years

    Setting a target for 40 per cent of electricity will come from renewable sources by 2020 rising to 100 per cent by 2050

    Investing up to £400 million in refurbishing shipyards so they can manufacture offshore wind turbines
    Transforming electricity networks

    Launching a one-year Eco Cash-Back scheme

    Setting aside money for schools that want to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings

    Investing £140 million in a bus scrappage scheme to replace old, polluting buses

    Blocking any new coal-fired power stations

    Rejecting a new generation of nuclear power stations

  • Nuclear is green, secure and (compared to all other forms of low carbon energy) cheap.
    What’s not to like?

  • Andrew Duffield 29th Oct '10 - 11:22pm

    What about the massive public subsidy of an insurance waiver via underwriting by the state?

  • Barry George 29th Oct '10 - 11:28pm

    @Chris Jenkinson

    In regards to your second post, the Lib Dems didn’t achieve an outright majority, did they?

    I am sick and tired of having the fact that liberal’s didn’t win an outright majority used as justification for the spineless u-turn on so many of our manifesto commitments.

    If we can not at least stand for, and vote for, our manifesto commitments when we are in government then what is the point of informing the voters of our political intentions before an election when (after the election) we will simply say that it no longer applies because we didn’t win a majority.

    Being in Government (coalition or not) is about trying to get your manifesto implemented. Not abandoning it in favor of a ‘coalition agreement’ which not one single person in this country voted for.

    It is a immoral and shameful betrayal of all things Liberal Democrat to abandon our promises to the people and replace them with a non elected coalition agreement.

    I am ashamed that my vote was used to bring forth policies that the manifesto contradicts, but I am not ashamed to inform this (or any) Liberal democrat MP that I am disgusted with the party I voted for and that I will consider future manifesto commitments as being as worthless as those that abandon their commitments, simply on the totally inadequate belief that being in coalition means you no longer have to vote in line with the promises you made to the voters.

  • Just to note that the wording of the manifesto may highlight the economic. However, the historic Liberal and Lib Dem opposition does not just come from that factor. Issues of safety, and the irreparable damage (Chernobyl – and worse – style) which could occur from a nuclear accident or attack on a facility. This sort of problem becomes ever more likely with more extreme weather events and more exotic targets being chosen by those with an axe to grind who are prepared to use indiscriminate violence in pursuit of their ends. I am well aware that some greens are changing tune regarding nuclear, but still feel that nuclear is a stage too far for most environmental campaigners. So, with that in mind, I think Chris and other members of the Govt are stretching credulity to claim this as the “greenest Govt ever”.

    In terms of the predicted total capacity for 2025, how much are we looking to save by better insulation, more efficient transmission etc? Surely we should be looking at reducing demand in many areas? I accept that transport and probably space heating where still necessary will have to look for much more electric power to displace fossil fuels, so totals may increase.

  • Difficult to know what to make of all this – a pledge during the election to oppose nuclear power appears to have been broken by a man who made much of his green credentials and his happy marriage during the election while cheating on his wife, but I suppose we must give him the benefit of the doubt.

  • Barry George 30th Oct '10 - 12:26am

    Chris Jenkinson

    What is the outcome which was/is better for the Lib Dems than the one we have now ?

    I have argued many times that our position would have been stronger if we had taken a ‘supply and confidence’ stance which would have enabled us and the Tories to work harder to implement our manifesto commitments and also allowed us to remain distinct, principled and honest to the electorate whilst (in my opinion) getting a greater share of our manifesto implemented and also remaining true to our commitments to the public.

    To me, this would be a far better position to be in, certainly if you believe the post-election opinion polls.

    The counter argument is that the Tories would have called a snap election and won comfortably.

    I personally accept neither premise.

    However, I have no desire to throw this debate further off topic, but when a Liberal MP makes a rare visit to this site to make a point of his own then it is only fair that someone like myself takes that same opportunity to inform the MP of my extreme discomfort , (particularly with regard to the social cleansing of the poor and the draconian welfare policies of this coalition) with regard to his actions and my displeasure at his choice to disregard his promises to the electorate in return for a few years of pseudo power.

    Like I say, I have no desire to steer this thread off topic into a debate about our misguided choice to enter a coalition. I do , however want Chris Huhne to know how angry people like me are and his coming here gave me such an opportunity.

    I, having made my point, ‘intend’ to leave this thread to others to make what ever points they so wish to raise in response to this article by the MP.

  • Patrick Smith 30th Oct '10 - 9:17am

    In a recent survey amongst L/D Members, 41% supported the unequivocal view,as I do as one founder Member,that there must be consistency with the pledged L/D Manifesto on no public subsidy for the new 8 nuclear stations.

    It is inevitable that by dint of the fact that less than 5% of the National Grid this winter, will only receive input from renewable sources that include solar,wind turbine and sea wave technology, the distinctive change in policy ,is entirely dependent on Chris Huhne`s Ministerial talent to `Deliver for Britain’.

    So therefore,to keep on the lights at the present time,nuclear stations are needed but there is to be no public subsidy.

    To keep the Nation warm this winter nuclear generated energy, remain a key part of the equasion, until enough sustainable renewable sources are found and tapped into the National Grid.

    My concerns are that as we move closer towards a greater suppy of renewable energy we must realise that it is dependent on the successful prosecution of the L/D core belief for renewable clean energy.

    In moving swiftly to as many means of sustainable green energy in the future, is also part of the role of the new envisaged Green Bank, as it will be crucial to stimulate company investment.

    The noted increase in production of the Construction Industry, 6% over the last quarter, bodes well for future investment for the pledged 150,000 new social housing homes where sustainale clean energy is critically important.

    It is important to keep the enegy costs in the least off homes down to the minimum, particularly during the prospect of a cold and bitter winter, with a purge on insulation improvement driven on by Local Councils.

    The population of over 80`s year olds is increasing in an Ageing Society and will grow by 50% by 2020 and each individual older pensioner has the right to low cost fuel budgets and to keep warm with the best insulation possible.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 30th Oct '10 - 10:08am

    “Nuclear is green, secure and (compared to all other forms of low carbon energy) cheap.
    What’s not to like?”

    The fact that the part said precisely the opposite at the election?

  • Pity about the Severn Barrage… 5% of our electricity form a renewable source right there…

    Huhne is a prime example of the ‘new’ lib dems – a careerist with no real principles agreeing with whatever suits his personal advancement that week

  • @Norfolk boy have you actually read the report on the Severn barrage? It costs £30bn and produces very expensive electricity. More than twice as expensive than nuclear .

  • Mike(The Labour one) 30th Oct '10 - 11:38am

    Shock horror I agree with Guido Fawkes.

    Chris Huhne defines ‘no public subsidies’ as ‘okay, a public subsidy, but they’re getting one too!’

    Nuclear always entails a public subsidy anyway, in the same way that huge risky banks entail a public subsidy. It’s just one that we can’t reasonably guess at until the time comes that it can’t be avoided.

  • Barry George 30th Oct '10 - 5:01pm

    @ Matt

    I am assuming Barry, that you have had a previous comment on this thread removed

    Thanks for your concern but I haven’t had any comments removed from this thread.

  • Andrew Duffield 30th Oct '10 - 7:58pm

    “…no levy, direct payment or market support will be provided for electricity from nuclear power stations unless similar support is provided more widely for other types of generation…”

    Public liability insurance will be waived for all forms of power generation and underwritten by the taxpayer instead then?

    Looks like the Times (‘Taxpayer to underwrite expansion of nuclear power’) got it right after all.

  • Liberal Neil 31st Oct '10 - 1:48am

    @Barry George If we had allowed a minority Tory Government we would be getting none of our policies delivered. As it is we will get some of them delivered. I would rather have some than none.

  • Barry George 31st Oct '10 - 3:59pm

    Liberal Neil

    If we had allowed a minority Tory Government we would be getting none of our policies delivered.

    I disagree, the Tories do not have enough MP’s to get anything through Parliament. Without the coalition they were toothless. They would have had to ensure that their policy proposals were ‘user friendly’ to gain the required support to pass legislation.

    If not us then who else would they have turned to ?

    What kind of concessions could we have got from them in return ?

    Our reputation would have been enhanced by sticking to our manifesto commitments and even more so by maintaining our separate identity as a party.

    However, for the benefit of not taking this thread on a mystery tour, shall we agree to disagree ?

  • Barry George 31st Oct '10 - 8:28pm

    Andrew, I just picked a council at random to illustrate the way the fair rent system works…

    The Rent Service (TRS) is now part of The Valuations Agency and one of their duties is to carry out fair rent assessments for council’s that are responsible for administering Housing Benefit. In such instances, the council will send various information regarding the accommodation you rent including the following:

    •The amount of rent you are charged.
    •The age and number of people who love with you.
    •The type of accommodation you live in.
    •Your tenancy details.
    •The number of rooms in your accommodation and those that are used by your household.
    The Rent Service will take this information and make comparisons with other rents charged in the area and the rent being charged for similar properties in other similar residential area’s. Using all of the data available to them they will make an assessment of a fair rent for the type of property you are renting and of a fair rent of a property that your circumstances needs. They may decide to restrict the amount of Housing Benefit we can pay if it is decided that the property exceeds your needs, i.e. it is over accommodated, or if the rent that you are being charged is higher than other comparable rents.

  • Barry George 31st Oct '10 - 8:29pm

    Ooops , posted that in the wrong thread , please delete it and this.


  • Older and wiser 1st Nov '10 - 8:52pm

    This is turning out in a time honoured British fashion. Firstly our civil service has completely wiped out the British nuclear industry. BNFL and UKAEA are both destroyed. Every nuclear site in the UK, (generating station or clean up site – including the Atomic Weapons Establishment) is owned or operated, or both, by foreign companies. Now the British are safely out of the way the insidious path to large subsidy is being quietly and patiently laid. The beneficiaries of this largesse will be (in alphabetical order). Areva (France), EdF (France), EoN (Germany), RWE (Germany), Toshiba (Japan), Westinghouse (USA). My prediction is that this will be well hidden and a British company will be allowed to make the power station door knocker. But this, of course, will be trumpeted as a major boost for British manufacturing industry. It is a terrible shame that the British Civil Service is so determindly anti-British.

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